‘A nos­tal­gic, ro­man­tic love let­ter . . . to the es­thetic of strip malls in Scar­bor­ough’

Glam­our of the big screen casts spot­light on Wex­ford Heights Plaza


In a world where highrise con­dos are king and big box stores reign, a run-of-the-mill strip mall in Scar­bor­ough stands alone. It’s a land where small busi­nesses tri­umph, and own­ers still know their cus­tomers’ names. This is Wex­ford Heights Plaza.

That’s what a trailer for a film set at a Scar­bor­ough strip mall might sound like — and now, there ac­tu­ally is one.

The glam­our of the big screen has cast its spot­light on the non­cha­lant strip mall at War­den Ave. and Lawrence Ave. E., thanks to Wex­ford Plaza, an off­beat in­de­pen­dent com­edy bear­ing its name.

“It’s a kind of nos­tal­gic, ro­man­tic love let­ter . . . to the es­thetic of strip malls in Scar­bor­ough,” film­maker Joyce Wong said.

“That ’50s and ’60s ide­al­ism, but then in­ter­sected with this kind of im­mi­grant Amer­i­can dream.”

The film is set in a “di­lap­i­dated but beau­ti­ful” strip mall in Scar­bor­ough, and stars a lonely fe­male se­cu­rity guard who has a mis­un­der­stood sex­ual en­counter with a makeup sales­man.

Wong said the idea of be­ing the underdog is part of the movie’s ap­peal.

“While grow­ing up in Scar­bor­ough, you kind of al­ways felt like you were left be­hind,” she said.

“You were kind of out­side of what was re­ally go­ing on, out­side of the main — what­ever the main was. So I feel like that was what was ap­peal­ing to a lot of the peo­ple . . . who have con­nected with this.”

The com­edy about the well-mean­ing ro­mance plays out at a place called Wex­ford Plaza. While shar­ing the same name, Wong said her movie wasn’t based on the real-life ver­sion, and that it could have been any strip mall in Scar­bor­ough.

“I was just kind of play­ing around with dif­fer­ent names, like Bri­dle­wood, Agin­court, Tuxedo Court,” she said. “I felt that Wex­ford, as a gen­eral area, kind of fit the most.”

The real Wex­ford Heights Plaza is filled with scenes of or­di­nary life at small re­tail­ers like a vac­uum store, com­puter re­pair shop and bak­ery among oth­ers.

In 1958, the Kiri­akou fam­ily pur­chased the plaza’s Wex­ford Restau­rant. They bought the en­tire plaza decades later. To­day, Tony Kiri­akou says busi­ness is boom­ing in Scar­bor­ough.

“Ev­ery­body says Scar­bor­ough is a bad town, a bad neigh­bour­hood,” Kiri­akou said. “Scar­bor­ough is a good neigh­bour­hood.”

About 20 ten­ants make up the strip mall com­mu­nity.

In a shop over­fill­ing with com­put­ers and tech equip­ment, Babar Ma- lik, of United Com­puter Busi­ness Inc., called his 4 1⁄ years at the plaza

2 “very good.”

A few busi­nesses down, Fred Sa­boohi of Cas Co. Sign & Print took a break from work­ing in the back of his store to call the plaza “per­fect,” with good peo­ple and a good owner.

It’s an old plaza with a his­tory, he said. “Most plazas, like this plaza, they de­stroy it and make it con­do­mini­ums,” Sa­boohi said. “But this is still here.”

Pa­trick James, co-owner of the plaza’s Elec­trolux Ser­vice Cen­tre, said the busi­ness has been there for 14 years.

“There was a vac­uum store in this plaza be­fore and they had closed down,” James said when asked about his store’s be­gin­nings. “They were here for about 20-some­thing years. So we wanted to come in, be­cause peo­ple are ac­cus­tomed to that store.

“So that’s why we came here. And you find that peo­ple are com­ing back now.”

He added that he thought the Wex­ford Plaza film would be good for busi­ness.

Wong, who grew up in Scar­bor­ough and now lives in Toronto’s west end, stud­ied film at York Univer­sity. In her youth, she had starkly dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences at Scar­bor­ough strip malls.

There was the strip mall she walked to with friends in Grade 8, to buy lunch and cig­a­rettes.

“It was kind of a cool space for us to hang out, out­side of our su­per con­ser­va­tive Catholic school­yard,” she re­called.

“And then there’s this other plaza, where when my mom picked me up and we went home, that she would al­ways stop at to do dry clean­ing and stuff,” Wong said.

“That plaza, I re­mem­ber just sit­ting there and wait­ing in the car and read­ing my math home­work or what­ever. It was just kind of this drain­ing, like, ‘ugh, I’m in Scar­bor­ough.’ ”

The film wasn’t shot in Wex­ford for lo­gis­ti­cal rea­sons — in­stead it was filmed at a plaza in North York, and other sites around the city.

The film has re­ceived rave re­views, with the Los An­ge­les Times de­scrib­ing it as “a fas­ci­nat­ing per­spec­tive swap” with a “unique ap­proach to sto­ry­telling and char­ac­ter build­ing.” It has played at nu­mer­ous film fes­ti­vals across North America.

The per­for­mances of lead char­ac­ters Betty, played by Reid As­sel­s­tine, and Danny, played by Dar­rel Gamotin, are de­scribed as “ex­cel­lent,” the writ­ing and edit­ing as “care­ful,” and Wong “a ma­jor tal­ent to watch.”

Wex­ford Plaza will be screened at Toronto’s Carl­ton Cin­e­mas from Dec. 1 to 7.


The film Wex­ford Plaza, pre­mier­ing next month, pays ode to Scar­bor­ough strip malls such as Wex­ford Heights Plaza.


Rakesh Kaul, left, and Pa­trick James are co-own­ers of Elec­trolux Ser­vice Cen­tre, one of about 20 shops found in Wex­ford Heights Plaza.


Wex­ford Plaza stars Betty Reid As­sel­s­tine as Betty and Dar­rel Gamotin as Danny. The film pre­mieres in Toronto on Dec. 1 at Carl­ton Cin­e­mas.

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