LOS­ING LIT­TLE JA­MAICA

Lo­cal re­tail­ers say Crosstown con­struc­tion and higher rents are taking a sig­nif­i­cant toll on the fab­ric of the com­mu­nity

Annex Post - - CONTENTS - By Josh Sher­man

As the LRT ex­pands across Eglin­ton, de­vel­op­ers are snap­ping up prop­er­ties and eras­ing lo­cal cul­ture

Own­ers of sur­viv­ing busi­nesses in Lit­tle Ja­maica are quick to point out the va­cant store­fronts along Eglin­ton Av­enue West, from Allen Road to Duf­ferin Street, which are, for some, omi­nous bell­wethers of the changes to come.

Ac­cord­ing to Nick Alampi, chair of the York-Eglin­ton Busi­ness Im­prove­ment Area (BIA), roughly 100 busi­nesses in the area have shut down since shov­els broke ground for con­struc­tion on the Eglin­ton Crosstown Light Rail Tran­sit pro­ject in 2011. Since then, bar­ri­ers have been put up in some places, eclips­ing en­tire stretches of Eglin­ton, in­clud­ing a slew of record shops, bar­bers and Caribbean gro­cery stores.

“There’s noth­ing to see now be­cause it’s all blocked up,” said Sharon Walker, who co-owns the Braid­ing Store at 1666 Eglin­ton Ave. W.

Walker said the strip is go­ing through some tough times. She’s no­ticed a drop in pedes­trian traf­fic, re­duced park­ing has taken a toll, and she is con­stantly sweep­ing up dust that blows into her sa­lon from the con­struc­tion out­side.

“It does af­fect your busi­ness in many ways, but, you know, you just have to go out there and do your thing — ad­ver­tise and stuff like that,” she said.

How­ever, Walker said Lit­tle Ja­maica likely won’t be the same when all the con­struc­tion is over, “Maybe a small piece [will re­main], but not what it was.”

Mike Ge­orge has op­er­ated 2000 & 1 Hair Stu­dio at 1621 Eglin­ton Ave. W. for the past eight years and said he un­der­stands con­struc­tion on Eglin­ton West is nec­es­sary. What he doesn’t get is why he’s lost park­ing in front of his sa­lon 24/7.

“I know that the work has to be done, but af­ter six in the evening … and on week­ends, if there is no con­struc­tion go­ing on, my cus­tomers should be al­lowed to park,” Ge­orge said.

He’d like to see an ex­emp­tion that would let cus­tomers park near his store­front at cer­tain times each day.

“We’re los­ing busi­ness big time, and we should get com­pen­sated. This is a rich coun­try, man. You’re not in the Caribbean.… Why can’t they com­pen­sate the busi­ness peo­ple?” he said.

If busi­ness doesn’t pick up, Ge­orge sug­gested he may have to close up shop. Clau­dine Har­ris, a stylist who works along­side Ge­orge, said the stress and un­cer­tainty has made her ill.

“Where am I gonna get money to pay my bills?” Har­ris asked.

Last month, Mayor John Tory and coun­cil­lor Josh Colle, Ward 15, Eglin­ton-Lawrence, held a press con­fer­ence in Lit­tle Ja­maica to an­nounce park­ing dis­counts for the area and a planned cleanup of the strip.

How­ever, Alampi isn’t sure ex­actly how those mea­sures will play out.

“At the end of the day, we want to thank the mayor, we want to thank Josh Colle for what he’s done,” Alampi said. “[But] we’re not get­ting a clear un­der­stand­ing of how these [changes] are go­ing to be, and how it would work.”

The York-Eglin­ton BIA has al­ready taken its own steps to spruce up the area. One ini­tia­tive in­volves putting up old pho­tos of the area in va­cant store win­dows.

“If peo­ple are go­ing for a stroll, it’s entertaining — it’s just not empty store, empty store, empty store. So what we’re hop­ing to do is at least make the area more pleas­ant, more invit­ing,” Alampi said.

Diana Pe­tra­mala, a se­nior re­searcher for Ry­er­son Uni­ver­sity’s Cen­tre for Ur­ban Re­search and Land De­vel­op­ment, said the LRT will bring other chal­lenges too.

Toronto City Coun­cil has al­ready ush­ered in by­law ex­cep­tions to al­low mid-rise build­ings fronting onto parts of Eglin­ton Av­enue West.

Pe­tra­mala said the re­sult­ing po­ten­tial for de­vel­op­ment in the area is sure to drive prices up.

“Tran­sit in­creases land val­ues wher­ever you go,” Pe­tra­mala said, not­ing higher land val­ues bring more ex­pen­sive rents. “The gentrification has al­ready started, from my own ob­ser­va­tion … from just north of St. Clair along Oakwood it­self. It will even­tu­ally get to Eglin­ton.”

A 16-storey, mixed-use condo build­ing has al­ready been pro­posed for the south­west cor­ner of Eglin­ton and Oakwood Av­enue. The Hub Con­dos, by de­vel­oper Em­pire Com­mu­ni­ties, was the first big pro­posal to come forward.

As con­struc­tion continues, Alampi said many busi­nesses are finding cre­ative ways to try and sur­vive un­til the dust set­tles on the $5.3 bil­lion in­fra­struc­ture pro­ject that is ex­pected to wrap up in 2021.

“They’re diversifying and adopt­ing part­ner­ships, whether it be in their fa­cil­ity — the mor­tar and brick — or whether it be through mo­bile ser­vices,” he ex­plained.

At Bobbi Jo Quigley’s shop, you can grab an Amer­i­cano or stock up on an­gora yarn. Her busi­ness, Porch Swing Yarn­som­ni­acs, 1568 Eglin­ton Ave. W., be­gan as a knit­ting-sup­ply re­tailer. But to help cover the rent, she added a mod­est café to the store a year ago.

“We wouldn’t have been able to pay for rent. We would’ve been screwed,” Quigley said.

Al­though the café has helped busi­ness some, Quigley still doubts she’ll be able to re­new her lease when it ex­pires in the fall.

Clockwise from left: Sharon Walker of the Braid­ing Store, Mike Ge­orge of 2000 & 1 Hair Stu­dio and Bobbi Jo Quigley of Porch Swing Yarn­som­ni­acs

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