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Nearby Costco could be boon to Leaside business

My colleague Geoff Kettel made a well-considered argument in October’s issue outlining the reasons he feels the proposed 14,752 square metre Costco store to be built on the former premises of Coca-Cola Canada in Thorncliffe Park is a frontal assault on Leaside’s already overburdened traffic patterns.

He might be right.

But before we march down to city hall and demand planners toss this proposal in the dumpster, I believe it makes sense to examine the other side of this coin:

Could the additional 2.24 million vehicle trips Geoff says will flow into Thorncliffe Park on an annual basis (he knows his stuff so there’s no argument from me on the actual number) as a result of the new Costco, at least in part on Leaside roads, actually be beneficial to businesses both on Bayview Ave. and Laird Dr.?

I think Bayview’s future success is significantly enhanced with Costco’s presence.

The shops on Bayview have struggled to remain relevant in recent years. This summer has seen a move by property owners and tenants to create a business improvement area (the result is expected in November/December after we have gone to press) as a means to fight a united war against other better funded shopping districts, including Laird Dr. It’s long overdue.

Recently I had the pleasure of shopping in Ottawa’s Westboro Village. I was there to buy a tie for a wedding my wife and I were attending in the capital. I went to the local BIA website (http://www.westboro-village.com), entered “menswear” in the search field, and lo and behold up popped E.R. Fisher, in business since 1905. It was easy as 1, 2, 3.

While I wouldn’t want to speculate about how Westboro businesses would feel if Costco opened a few kilometres from their shopping district, I suspect they’d welcome the additional traffic. The City of Ottawa studied Westboro’s parking situation in 2011 and found pay parking wasn’t necessary because there’s plenty of free, one-hour parking along the main Richmond Rd. corridor. Not surprisingly, the BIA promotes this fact on its website.

I realize Ottawa isn’t the same kettle of fish as cash-starved Toronto, and it’s likely we’d sooner see Doug Ford as mayor than we would free parking on Bayview, but retail businesses depend on foot traffic for their very survival. Denying Costco potentially takes money out of the hands of Bayview businesses that need every leg up possible.

There’s a perception that not enough parking exists on the street — I say “perception” because I often see more than a handful of empty parking spaces at the Green P south of TD — and therefore additional traffic would only make things worse for retailers, not better.

Despite this conundrum I believe most businesses would welcome the increased car traffic (and potential spinoff foot traffic from people unfamiliar with the shopping on Bayview) that’s expected from areas north of Eglinton and west of Bayview that are passing through on their way to Costco.

Why? Because Costco’s customers have an average household income of $95,800 with 41 percent earning $100,000 or more. A Costco in Thorncliffe Park would see customers from Lawrence Park, Rosedale, the Bridle Path and other more affluent neighbourhoods make the trek through Leaside when previously they would have visited stores in Downsview or Scarborough.

With Costco’s customers visiting once or twice a month, Leaside businesses are being presented with a marketing opportunity unlike anything they’ve seen before. If the BIA sees the light of day one of its first projects should be to lobby for a new Costco at 42-46 Overlea Blvd.

Like Walmart, many consider Costco to be a category killer interested in only one thing – driving its competition out of business. That’s not the case. Costco provides one of the few examples of a big box store that actually makes a positive contribution to the communities in which it’s located.

A pilot project announced in February will see Costco’s 20 stores in the GTA partner with Ready, Willing & Able, an initiative of the Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL) that’s designed to help employers hire and support youth and working-age adults with developmental disabilities. Michael Bach, executive vice-president for CACL, has said, “Fostering and growing a relationship with Costco Wholesale within this pilot will certainly lead to increased employment opportunities in the Greater Toronto Area.”

Axing the Overlea Costco not only throws 250 full- and part-time jobs out the window, it deprives those with developmental disabilities an additional opportunity to find gainful employment with a corporation whose willingness to hire them is of public record.

Unemployment in Toronto hit 10 percent in August. Thorncliffe Park is one of the hardest hit communities anywhere in the city when it comes to joblessness. These $12 per hour jobs might not matter to residents living on Bessborough but they’re a godsend to those living closest to the proposed store.