Unlike my colleague Will Ashworth, I do not think that Bayview Ave. business owners are primarily to blame for the recent closing of several stores on their street.
Rather, they are victims of the over-development of retail centres on Laird Dr. These centres emerged as a direct consequence of the city’s planning policy to allow these former industrial lands to be converted into commercial areas.
Notably, the official plan allows for large-scale retail on the edges of employment areas, but only “if sufficient transportation capacity is available to accommodate the extra traffic generated by the development and the economic health of nearby shopping districts is not adversely affected.”
By now it is obvious that planners failed to abide by all the conditions of this policy. As a result, we now have increased traffic congestion on Laird Dr. and an ailing business environment on Bayview Ave.
This is merely the big picture, however.
On a daily basis, it is the parking situation that most works against Bayview. Acres of free parking are available in the shopping centres on Laird set against paying an arm and a leg for on-street parking for Bayview businesses. This is especially vexing if you need to feed the meter in the event that your time expires.
Of course you can always take your chances of finding a spot further away along residential streets, but who has the time? And where is the bike parking on Bayview? Biking to shop on the street is eminently doable, but there’s nowhere to park. Almost all bike parking on the east side disappeared when the sidewalk was repaved last summer.
What about the argument that Bayview is about boutique shopping and is competing in a different market than the big box stores? This is true to a degree, but should the street forgo the commodity shops and become boutique only?
In my view, Bayview is both a stimulating place to go and a neighbourhood shopping street. The boutique stores and higher end restaurants offer unique treats, but the commodity stores create a European experience for people who like to shop daily.
Will thinks that Bayview is bland. I disagree. How much more bland is a big box store? Bayview is about owner-operators, not corporate behemoths, about entrepreneurs and artisans that create things with their own hands, their own minds, not just stock shelves. It is about relationships, built over time. The street is a unique cultural space that needs to be preserved.
Admittedly, another Bayview challenge is the high rents. Will landlords realize that they can create more revenue from reasonable rents that keep store fronts filled than unaffordable high rents that drive out tenants? At least one landlord has agreed to lower the rent just to enable a tenant to stay on. It’s an example of what can happen when there is some communication and a longer term perspective.
So, what is my prescription for the future?
Firstly, Bayview needs to renounce its victimhood, seize the collective power that comes from working together, and form a Business Improvement Area. The Bits and Bites on Bayview event last summer gave us a literal and figurative taste of what a BIA can achieve.
Secondly, improve parking on Bayview, and not just for cars. There is a need for a parking facility near Eglinton; maybe the BIA could negotiate an arrangement for public parking in private office lots.
Most importantly, let’s eliminate the unfairness of free parking at big box stores. There should be a parking tax for all cars parking regardless of public or private space.