“Bayview is in a recession and is heading for a depression. Unless Leasiders shop regularly on this street, it will be gone, and soon.” That is the grim forecast of Nancy Penny, owner of Absolute Beauty, a skin-care salon on Bayview Ave.
Penny has operated her business for over 34 years and has watched at least seven stores close over the past year, including most recently the restaurant Chai, Yeh! and The Mad Italian. She predicts many more will follow.
“Bayview used to be prestigious, now it’s not. I have never in my life seen the lack of people on the street.”
She particularly mourns the loss of boutique stores. “The more the interesting little stores go, the more people come at night. There are simply fewer people during the day.”
Penny attributes the business failures primarily to high rents. “The landlords are greedy. What people don’t realize is that tenants must pay for everything on the buildings. That includes property taxes, carrying costs and insurance. In the end, our profit margin is virtually non-existent.”
Rhonda Fruitman, owner of Whatever Lola Wants, an accessories boutique that features jewellery made by Canadian designers, agrees. “Nobody can entice local businesses at the prices of the rents now,” she says.
Fruitman recently conducted an unofficial survey of the street, and discovered that owners of small independent businesses typically pay an average rent of $6,000 a month.
Her landlord recently lowered the rent, but she does not see that as an act of altruism. “I’ve warned him over the last two years that’s there’s a problem on Bayview. I suspect that now he sees the status for himself.”
Dom Badali, the owner of Badali’s Fruit Market, is even more candid about rents. “If I didn’t own this building, I’d have been out of business 30 years ago,” he says.
He sees the free parking at Laird shopping centres as a big culprit, along with Toronto’s failure to perform maintenance on the streets in a timely manner. That includes snow removal.
“They put No Parking signs on the street last Saturday and Sunday (early February), so they could plow the snow, then they never came!” he says. “For two days we lost all that business, and what was the point of it all?”
“Honestly, it’s gotten to the point where as fast as they put the no parking cones down, we [business owners] put them back,” Penny says.
A snow storm last December, then the ice-storm a week later, also devastated businesses on the street.
Penny believes that shoppers reacted by cocooning at home and buying online.
Fruitman also says that Leaside money appears to going someplace else. “Nowadays a shopper’s priority is searching for deals,” she says, adding, “You want to live in Leaside, so it is important that that is where you put your money.”
The building of the LRT, and the prospect of single lane restrictions both east and west along Eglinton, further exacerbates the fears of Bayview retailers.
“No one will turn left,” says Penny. “The LRT is going to kill the business for many years to come.”
Meanwhile, the debate over the establishment of a Business Improvement Area has raged among the street’s retailers for years.
“It only takes one who’s against the idea to kill it,” says Badali, who believes the collective power in a BIA would give owners some clout.
Though Penny also supports the creation of a BIA, she empathizes with the struggle some owners face in paying for maintenance. “Some owners simply don’t have a dime to spare after expenses,” she says.
It is Fruitman, though, who sounds the loudest alarm in her struggle to keep her business afloat, saying simply, “I don’t know how much fight I have left.”