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Wrong once, hope I’m wrong again

By the time this issue goes to press Ron White’s latest shoe store will have been on Bayview for three months. I remember when it first opened walking in and thinking what a beautiful store it was and how much work and money must have gone into getting it ready for the Leaside customer, who, I’ve come to learn, can be very fickle indeed.

“The store is doing exceptional sales after only being open for a month, and there’s a reason why — the area’s patrons are typically upper-middle class and mature, which mirrors the brand’s primary target market,” White told Retail Insider in June.

White then described how in a popular mall roughly 25 percent of shoppers may be within his brand’s target market, while in Leaside, it’s in excess of 95 percent.

Anyone who’s followed my Business of Leaside column knows that I haven’t been very complimentary at times to the Bayview shopping experience. Almost my entire argument why the creation of the Bayview Leaside Business Improvement Area made sense was, I felt, due to the lack of a common vision amongst retailers and property owners on the street.

So, when I read Ron White’s comments discussing the Leaside demographic in Retail Inside, an online digital publication covering the Canadian retail scene and one that I respect, I was impressed.
Here was a Bayview retailer describing with absolute certainty his target market. I immediately emailed a friend who’s been living and doing business in Leaside for almost as long as the Blue Jays have been in existence to tell him the great news.

My friend’s reaction was less than positive. What a load of crap, was the general thrust of the return email. I thought about the reaction for a minute and realized his observation may have been more on point then I was prepared to admit at the time.

In recent years it’s been commonplace for several stores to be vacant on the Bayview strip at any given time as rents either became too high for tenants or, in the case of big box stores such as Sleep Country Canada, they simply moved to locations where there was more parking and quite possibly more traffic.

Is White wrong in his observation? Well, not exactly. There’s no denying that the surrounding neighbourhoods have a lot of wealth.

According to Canadian Business magazine, the five wealthiest neighbourhoods in Ontario are all within a five-kilometre drive. The closest Leaside gets to making the list is in what Canadian Business dubs Sunnybrook, which is really just another part of the Bridle Path, the richest neighbourhood not only in Ontario but Canada as well.

White argues that people from these neighbourhoods and adjacent ones such as Rosedale and Moore Park come to Bayview for the relaxed shopping environment far away from the hustle and bustle of Yorkdale.

He’s not wrong on that count. My cousin and her family live in north Rosedale and shop on Bayview on a regular basis, but they hardly spend a fortune and certainly not $500 for a pair of sandals. Like many people who’ve worked hard to squirrel away a few bucks, they prefer to hang on to it, generally living within their means.

As for Leaside I reached out to a top real estate agent in the area for his take on the spending habits of those living in the immediate neighbourhood. He was quick to point out that although the household income in Leaside was quite high, there wasn’t much left after the mortgage, private school, sports, the cottage, RRSPs, taxes, tutors, travel, etc. In other words their plates were pretty full.

The Bayview Leaside BIA clearly has a steep hill to climb before it can claim victory. For White’s sake and that of Bayview, I hope he’s right about the demographic.

But the same wealthy neighbourhoods he speaks about have been around for years and yet shops on Bayview still opened and closed with regularity.

Ultimately, Bayview’s success will have less to do with the wealthy neigbourhoods that surround it, and more to do with providing things to buy and services to use that people actually want and need — including expensive shoes.

It’s tough to know how Bayview will turn out in the years to come but I do know one thing, wealthy neighbourhoods in proximity to a shopping district can’t hurt, but history has shown that it’s much less important than retailers would care to admit.

Take Yorkdale for example. It’s proven people will go out of their way if the experience is a good one.

Leaside doesn’t need more wealthy prospects, it needs ones that will actually spend money. Evidence suggests that’s not who live here but for the sake of the BIA I’m more than willing to be wrong.