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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Eighty Thousand Petitioning Kensington Market Shoppers or Tourists?

Almost eighty thousand people have signed an online petition against a proposed Walmart on Bathurst Street south of College Street about half a mile from the Kensington Market in Toronto. And over six thousand have signed a petition against a proposed Loblaw’s on College Street on the verge of the Market.

What these people must be saying is that many people who now shop in the Kensington Market would, if the Walmart or Loblaw’s opened, choose to shop at them instead. And they want the City government to deny them that choice.

Just conceivably the petitions could be a kind of voluntary market survey, kindly warning Walmart and Loblaw’s that people won’t shop at their stores. That they will lose money because people prefer to shop at the Kensington Market. But plainly they are not. The petitioners call themselves the Friends of the Kensington Market and claim they are trying to Save the Kensington Market. The big corporations and their big stores are the baddies. And the retailers of Kensington Market are the good guys.

What are they up to then? If they are a statistically significant sample of people who regularly shop at the Kensington Market, they have nothing to worry about. Unless they own shares in Walmart or Loblaw’s. They will continue to shop in a thriving Kensington Market and Walmart and Loblaw’s will struggle and perhaps go away.

Might they? Just might they be people who already shop at the Loblaw’s on Christie or Whole Foods on Avenue Road and, perhaps, fashionable organic farmers’ markets and occasionally go down to Kensington Market for fine cheese or fish, or vintage clothing and a bite at one of its characterful restaurants?

If so, and at over eighty thousand and rising the petitioners must go way beyond the regular household shoppers in the Market, they are basically local tourists who want to restrict the shopping choices of those who live in the Kensington neighbourhood so that they can have a picturesque market to visit when they tire of the Distillery District or funky Queen Street West.

And restaurants? Oh, dear! They’re another problem.

It’s not clear who is behind the move. I could find no petition. But the City government that is being asked to stop the Walmart and Loblaw’s opening anywhere near the Kensington Market has already limited ‘restaurants’ to 25% of the storefronts on Queen Street West in Parkdale. And City Councillor Adam Vaughan, whose ward includes the Kensington Market, has started the City studying a similar ban there. They may find that ‘restaurants’, which, so far as the City can regulate them include coffee shops, already constitute more than 25% of the Market. Most of my visits to the Market, which is four short blocks from my home, have been to go to those ‘restaurants.’

The chief ground advanced for limiting ‘restaurants’ is that they will drive up rents. Which is to say that more people will come and spend at restaurants than do at grocery stores or funky clothing stores or hardware stores. And they must be stopped. Or else Adam Vaughan will have to get in a car to buy a light bulb. Something he finds ‘extremely offensive.’ I can buy light bulbs at six places within five minutes walk of where I am sitting. They sell them at Loblaw’s. Mostly incandescent, but that’s another issue. Apparently Vaughan doesn’t use public transit.

A more plausible ground for objecting to ‘restaurants’ is that they would risk turning the area into a clubland with drunken youth yelling and puking in the wee hours. But that is a liquor licencing issue and no business of the City. Under the legislation the Alchohol and Gaming Commission is supposed to consider whether there are already enough licensed establishments in an area.

There is already under the Criminal Code of Canada a ban on crack houses in the Kensington Market and Parkdale. But as this is not the subject of a Zero Tolerance policy those who frequent the areas for what Adam Vaughan apparently believes is the Mayor’s favorite pick-me-up need not worry.

UPDATE November 12, 2020: An Independent City Market, a kind of Loblaw's franchise, did indeed open on College Street in 2016. It closed a couple of weeks ago. It was a fine store but had no obvious street presence. It could not compete with the Kensington Market.

There is no Walmart on Bathurst Street. There is a Freshco and a Winners, but they are too far from Kensington Market to compete with it.

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