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The Bayview merchants seem ambivalent

Recently I did a quick walk up and down Bayview. I counted a total of 121 storefront businesses from Parkhurst on the north to Davisville  on the south.

Of those stores, 44, or a little more than one-third, are food-related. Between Manor Rd. and Belsize on the west side, there are no fewer than 17 establishments where you can enjoy some type of sit-down meal.

When Landmark Oriental Kitchen & Bar held its grand opening this past Oct. 14 it was the eighth Asian restaurant to set up shop on Bayview. This solitary event got me thinking about what is happening to Bayview.

Yes, clustering is commonplace in cities around the world, especially with restaurants, but it made me think that except for the opening of De La Mer Fresh Fish Market in August 2009, about when I moved to Leaside, there hasn’t been a store that truly filled a need. Sure, we’ve now got multiple gelato and frozen yogurt shops, but you could hardly call them essential.

I spoke to several merchants on Bayview and was a little surprised at how ambivalent they were towards what’s happening on the street. I had a hard time getting a sense of their true feelings. With the exception of the Badali brothers, everyone I talked to didn’t seem overly concerned, which is strange, because Bayview’s getting hit from all directions business wise.

I found that few had concrete ideas on how to keep Bayview competitive. They have a much easier time articulating what they’re against than what they’re for.

They were quick to voice displeasure over a particular parking enforcement officer (PEO) who seems to take great pride in turning people off. I’ve seen him in action; he’s ruthless.

In 2012, the City of Toronto was projected to generate $80.6 million from parking tag enforcement and another $33.6 million in revenue from on-street meters. New York City will make approximately $190 million in 2012 from meters and another $600 million from parking enforcement.

It costs $2.25 per hour to park on Bayview. To park in Brooklyn (outside the New York City core, like Leaside) costs $1 per hour at a meter and is free on Sundays.

Reasonable meter rates along with non-Gestapo PEOs would go a long way to making the shopping experience on Bayview more enjoyable.

Several jurisdictions in North America are experimenting with targeted parking tag enforcement where the fees generated by a specific commercial area are reinvested in that same area. Landlords and tenants would greatly benefit.

Perhaps some of these dollars could go to a public-private partnership that funds a portion of the rent in the first couple of yearsfor prospective independent storeowners.

The other hot button issue is rent. With the going rate for storefront leases on Bayview said to be almost double what they’re asking on Mt. Pleasant Rd., the only businesses that realistically survive are restaurants with high margins on booze/coffee or chain-operated stores like Shoppers Drug Mart, which is accustomed to paying nosebleed rents. That doesn’t leave much room for the independent specialty shop.

The goal of this article was to come up with some ideas about the type of store missing from Bayview that would help drive traffic there. However, it’s become clear that what’s really missing is a concise vision for the future.

BIAs (business improvement areas) have been proposed in the past but nothing ever comes of it.

A quick look in the parking lots of both Leaside Village and the Leaside Smart Centre provide ample evidence that the 17,000 local residents are gladly supporting these businesses at the expense of Bayview.

Will Dollarama help stem the tide? One can only hope. Without a plan, however, I see the street continuing to bleed a slow death, one where the independent storekeeper slowly fades away.

I hope I’m wrong.