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Keeping up to changing retail landscape

My wife and I moved to Leaside three years ago this past August. We love Leaside, although the nearby meth lab uncovered at Bayview and Parkhurst shortly after our arrival was unsettling. Despite the rocky start, we would definitely have a hard time leaving, partly because there is so much happening here.

In the 41 months we’ve lived in Leaside the one constant seems to be the changing retail landscape. And since my business is writing about business, I’m looking forward to writing about the changing retail landscape in our community.

Since Sobeys opened at the SmartCentre in January 2008, there’s been a barrage of store openings, closings, and relocations. You practically need a program to know who the players are.

When Leaside Village opened on Laird in October, Pet Valu was one of the first tenants to move there, from Bayview and McRae, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was a serious parking shortage.

Until PetSmart moved into Leaside several years ago, the Bayview Pet Valu was one of the franchisor’s five best performing stores by revenue. Pet Valu was acquired by Roark Capital Group in July 2009 for $143.7 million. The Atlanta-based private equity firm brought significant franchising experience to the table and immediately went to work rebranding and re-imaging Pet Valu.

A third local pet store, Paws & Claws moved to Bayview a year ago August after RioCan, the owners of Sunnybrook Plaza, were uninterested in providing it with a long-term lease.

Subject to redevelopment speculation for many years, Sunnybrook was bought by RioCan for $18.5 million in 2008. It intends to build a mixed-use development similar to the one it opened in 2011 at 1717 Avenue Rd.

That property went through a contentious development process that ultimately led to the Ontario Municipal Board granting RioCan the right to build a seven-storey mixed-use development that includes retail stores, from which it receives rental income, and condos sold by Tribute Communities, from which it also receives a portion of the profits.

With an LRT stop planned for Bayview and Eglinton, you can be sure RioCan will work with Tribute or some other condo developer to create an even taller building than the one on Avenue Rd.

I don’t have a problem with a high-density project at that location because Toronto can’t afford to build too many new subways and/or LRTs and so one of the only viable alternative is to increase the density at every existing subway stop. But clearly there are opponents to density intensification.

As for Paws & Claws, its owner found the move to Bayview has been a positive one and it only mildly resents the glee with which parking enforcement officers go about their daily revenue generation.

Just as Laird Dr. is well along in its transition from industrial to mixed-use development, Bayview Ave. is also undergoing its own metamorphosis with Dollarama opening. While it seems odd for a discount store to open on a street where Porsches and Land Rovers park in abundance, the dollar-store demographic actually works in the street’s favour.

Retail consultant Wendy Evans suggested in a Canadian Business article in 2011 that dollar stores in Canada tend to see a wider demographic than in the U.S.

“There’s a type of consumer who may drive a Mercedes but gets their stationery from a dollar store,” she says.

“You’ll see them buying a no-name brand and driving luxury cars and wearing designer clothing. They care about brands for some things and not others.”

My wife is the Canada East district manager for Los Angeles-based True Religion Brand Jeans. The same customers who fork over $300 for a pair of jeans at one of her stores think twice about paying more than a dollar for a pen. Consumers have become far less predictable.

Dollarama’s presence on the street will help drive foot traffic to the four-block shopping district, ultimately benefiting retailers and restaurants.

Leaside has come a long way since its incorporation on April 23, 1913. Let’s hope the next 100 years will be as exciting as the last ones were.

Happy New Year!

 Will Ashworth has worked in and around the financial services industry since 1997. He writes for InvestorPlace.com and Investopedia.com