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Kensington businesses fear franchise competition

For many, the cold weather means no longer walking to one’s destination and switching to other modes of transport, but a persistent few continue to detour through Kensington on foot to stop at Jungle Fruit.


Jane Ou, owner of the small fruit market on Kensington Ave., is afraid the potential installation of a Loblaws just north of the neighbourhood on Augusta Ave. will put an end to that routine for many people, especially during the colder weather. She said they will take advantage of the “one-stop shop” opportunity provided by the franchise supermarket.

“They have fruits, fish, organic food, everything. They won’t need to stop here most of the time,” Ou said.

The fruit market owner said the existing Loblaws east of Kensington market on College St. is a viable option for many people, but she doesn’t think it has a place in the neighbourhood.

Ou said there’s no point in having the supermarket built closer to her store, and sees a direct connection between the soaring rent costs many nearby store owners are suffering from and the introduction of bigger franchises. It was this same problem that forced Casa Acoreana Café, which was located in the heart of Kensington, out of business a few weeks ago, making room for higher-paying tenants.

“Small businesses are in big trouble already,” she said. Ou said her store is under contract for another three years, so for now they’re safe from rent hikes. However, hikes continue to affect other small businesses that have no choice but to try and adjust to new demands made by building owners.

Jacek Zalewski, owner of Ego on Kensington Ave., said he hasn’t met a single person who sees the prospect of a Loblaws as a positive one, and is quick to say he believes an introduction of a Loblaws will not only hurt small businesses, but tarnish the bustling market vibe Kensington has kept intact for dozens of years.

“Kensington contains a unique charm that can’t be found anywhere else,” he said.

“When people go on tour groups in Toronto, they make a special stop at Kensington because it’s so unusual.”

 Photo by Alex Coop

Photo by Alex Coop

He said places like Kensington exist in Europe – where he lived for many years before coming to Toronto – but the special combination of vintage clothing stores, food shops, and the inclusion of a variety of cultures makes Kensington a truly unique area that has no equal.

Arborist Mark Sherman, who has a degree in sociology and urban planning, said Loblaws could coexist alongside the community. Unlike Starbucks and its failed attempt to situate itself on a corner lot on Augusta Ave. in 2008, he sees key differences with Loblaws’ approach to integrating itself within the Kensington area.

“Starbucks seemed to want to feed off of the market, rather than contribute to it,” Sherman said. However, he said the integration next to St. Michael’s hospital fits a lot better as it serves the hospital population and the nearby market crowd.

Sherman added that the building Loblaws decided to team up with is doing some innovative designs that will improve the public walkway, such as an external vine green wall which could blend in nicely with the area. He also thinks the store could fill in for the absent nighttime food venue which is currently more popular on Spadina.

“The city is not stagnant,” Sherman said, adding that he hopes Loblaws’ arrival wouldn’t be at the expense of smaller shops buckling under the pressures of soaring rent costs.

Photo by Alex Coop

Photo by Alex Coop

 

A Q-and-A Sweptmedia.ca obtained from the Friends of Kensington, a group that’s been opposing the idea of a Loblaws for weeks, says the existing Loblaws and the two Metro locations on College St. and Spadina and Bloor provide good nighttime shopping. It also says having one within the market would “irrevocably” transform the neighbourhood. In addition, the Q-and-A mentions the fact that a chain store like Loblaws can go seasons without making a profit and still sustain itself, which would seriously jeopardize nearby small businesses.

By Alex Coop