Liv­ing at the of­fice? Some don’t mind it

High com­mer­cial rents make live-work units more ap­peal­ing — plus the com­mute’s a breeze

Toronto Star - - FRONT PAGE - DONO­VAN VIN­CENT HOUS­ING RE­PORTER

You might do a dou­ble take when you walk into Michel’s Be­spoke, a busi­ness op­er­at­ing on the outer edge of Toronto’s Fash­ion District.

There’s a fash­ion man­nequin at the front of the store, ex­pen­sive suits, shirts and ties on racks and in dis­play cases.

But be­hind the green cur­tains used by cus­tomers for pri­vacy when try­ing on clothes is a fridge and stove. There’s also a dish­washer. And up­stairs is coowner Paul Di Palma’s bed­room.

Di Palma and Michel Karkar, a be­spoke tai­lor, be­gan leas­ing the 1,000square-foot live-work town­house near King and Bathurst Sts. in June 2017. Spa­ces like this are hard to find in the city. Many are artists’ res­i­dences. Some are units in con­verted ware­houses and fac­to­ries. Oth­ers, like Karkar and Di Palma’s, are in rel­a­tively new town- houses and con­dos down­town.

With the high cost of hous­ing and com­mer­cial space in Toronto, live­work is an ap­peal­ing op­tion.

“It’s ex­cit­ing for me. I’m liv­ing my fan­tasy liv­ing above the shop,” says Di Palma, 28, who is ap­pren­tic­ing to be­come a be­spoke tai­lor. He is also re­spon­si­ble for man­ag­ing and de­vel­op­ing the com­pany, which of­fers Cana­di­an­made suits start­ing at $2,400.

Karkar, 57, has op­er­ated since 1993, be­gin­ning with a pop­u­lar ate­lier in North York that Di Palma joined in 2014. It caters to older, well-heeled clients. The chil­dren of those clients wanted tai­lored suits, too, yet didn’t want to go all the way up­town to get fit­ted. So Karkar and Di Palma be­gan look­ing down­town for a satel­lite lo­ca­tion.

Find­ing that com­mer­cial space was sell­ing for mil­lions of dol­lars, they soon grew frus­trated and gave up the search.

Mean­while, Di Palma was leav­ing an apart­ment in the An­nex he shared with his older brother be­cause the lat­ter’s girl­friend was mov­ing in.

Di Palma’s search for a home ig­nited his and Karkar’s in­ter­est in find­ing a live-work unit. “If Paul wasn’t with me (in the busi­ness), I wouldn’t have moved here,” Karkar says.

They had to retro­fit the down­town unit to suit their busi­ness, hid­ing pipes, in­stalling large cab­i­nets and putting in that cur­tain for the chang­ing area.

Di Palma’s liv­ing room up­stairs now dou­bles as a lounge where clients can min­gle and sip espresso. All told, the makeover took about a year.

Ac­cord­ing to the city’s plan­ning de­part­ment, the term “live-work” is in Toronto’s build­ing code but is not used in the city’s new zon­ing by­law.

Live-work is per­mit­ted in most com­mer­cial-res­i­den­tial zones. In ad­di­tion, the units are al­lowed in zones near King St. and Spad­ina Ave., and King and Par­lia­ment Sts., where com­mer­cial, res­i­den­tial and light-in­dus­trial uses are per­mit­ted to­gether.

The city’s by­laws spec­ify the types of busi­nesses that can op­er­ate in live-work units, such as salons, bar­ber­shops, and tat­too par­lours.

City plan­ning staff couldn’t im­me­di­ately pro­vide the cur­rent num­ber of live-work units in Toronto be­cause some have re­verted to res­i­den­tial only.

Karkar and Di Palma’s live-work, lo­cated be­side the Thomp­son Ho­tel, is part of a 330-unit condo de­vel­op­ment com­pleted around 2010. There are 13 units on Ste­wart St. that have the same street­front ac­cess as Karkar and Di Palma’s op­er­a­tion.

Most of the13 units are in­vestor-owned and leased to small busi­nesses, as in the case of Michel’s Be­spoke, where Di Palma and Karkar lease for $3,500 a month.

The units, which range in size from about 800 to1,200 square feet, orig­i­nally sold for about $450,000, but prices have since dou­bled.

Live-work was the “only op­tion” for 34-year busi­ness part­ners Jody Kezar and So­nia Yarkhani, who op­er­ate Evolve Hair Stu­dio, a thriv­ing busi­ness with about 2,500 clients.

Lo­cated among 30 or 40 other live­works on Fort York Blvd., near the Rogers Cen­tre, the 1,500-square-foot space Kezar and Yarkhani moved into in March 2012 was ini­tially a two-bed­room condo. But in­tend­ing all along to open a sa­lon, they quickly ren­o­vated and turned it into a live-work; they ran the sa­lon down­stairs and slept up­stairs.

They leased for a few years and saved up enough to buy the unit out­right. Each went on to pur­chase their own con­dos nearby, where they now live.

“Given the cal­i­bre of busi­ness we wanted to run, we knew it would cost us a lot ... to get started, so (live-work) was the best op­tion for us,” says Yarkhani.

But Sam Roozba­hani, who op­er­ates a real es­tate bro­ker­age be­side the sa­lon and used to live in the unit, says any­one con­sid­er­ing live-work shouldn’t for­get to fac­tor in busi­ness taxes.

“I pay $14,000 for my space,” he says. “If it was only res­i­den­tial I’d pay about $4,000. Prop­erty tax for com­mer­cial (space) is high in Toronto.”

STEVE RUS­SELL TORONTO STAR

Michel Karkar, left, and Paul Di Palma op­er­ate Michel’s Be­spoke tai­lors out of a town­house where Di Palma lives.

STEVE RUS­SELL TORONTO STAR

Michel’s Be­spoke own­ers Paul Di Palma, left, and Michel Karkar op­er­ate their busi­ness out of a condo unit on Ste­wart St.

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