Comment 106594

By lakeside (registered) | Posted December 05, 2014 at 00:57:14 in reply to Comment 106588

I wasn't suggesting intentional racism but rather using ethnicity as shorthand for those types of businesses that remain on James Street North but which wouldn't likely be described as boutiques.

I get as excited as anyone when I see the latest dingy storefront brought back from indifference to a renewed state of shining glory by owners and tenants; sweet it is when the last in a row of rainbow-coloured facades is finally filled in.

But I worry the type of program that you are suggesting would serve to shorten the timeline between now and that time in the future when James Street North has passed its peak awesomeness, having turned into another strip of chain stores, no room left for the brilliant independents we have now.

That may be hard to imagine from here but it's pretty much inevitable considering the short length of the strip.

Does anyone remember when Hess Village was great? Wasn't that only about a decade ago?

When the winds of gentrification finally take hold of an area, the process tends to occur with ever increasing swiftness.

Why not enjoy the process?

Twenty years from now many of us will be telling stories of how we were there when JSN finally reappeared on the scene. "Oh, but it was so much more authentic then. -- I knew many of the shop owners; some were close friends. -- I even worked to bring back a few of those beauties myself" we'll say. "Yet something has been lost. -- It's not the same since all those chains moved in. -- I could be in almost any city and go to those same stores. -- The employees don't even care, not like the industrious owner/operators who brought JSN back. -- Where did all the good stores go?" If that sounds far fetched go check out Queen Street West in Toronto, University Avenue to Bathurst, the original hip strip of that city. It is not even a shadow of what it was when it was first gentrified, and the period just before.

I worry about places like Mex-I-Can, to drop another ethnic token as stand-in for the type of shop which might be endangered here. If we do go ahead and enact an elevated level of property standards enforcement within our most important commercial areas, then are we prepared to possibly lose gems like this?

Didn't they recently have a brush with a new health inspection regime that saw them close for a day or two? What if they were given 30 days to bring everything up to standard, zero tolerance style? New washrooms, new kitchen, renovated dining room; could they do this?

To be honest, the first time I walked in there, in one look I decided it wasn't a place I would eat at. Fortunately, I did finally try it and in many visits there since have never had anything but the freshest and tastiest food. And this is despite the fact the place doesn't really do much for the eye. They have the best Mexican food I have ever bought here.

Taco Bell has cleaner windows, and they could afford to pay several times the rent that a place like Mex-I-Can could, no doubt, but which one do you want? How long will Mex-I-Can survive in a climate of broken-windows-type enforcement? I don't shop at the Vietnamese wholesaler, or supply my shop, my livelihood, from there but someone does.

Rather than use the blunt force of zero tolerance why not try a different angle? You mentioned carrot and stick. What if we were to try a less rigid approach?

Maybe there are people willing to jazz up some of the more neglected exteriors on a sort of community improvement basis. Many people are disturbed by some of the neglect that remains. Can we turn some of that energy into something positive? What if we offered to implement a cheap and cheerful makeover to those buildings that seem to be left behind; at least at the street level, the first storey?

We have some pretty good organizers around here. There is a spirit of volunteerism throughout the core. There are talented artists everywhere, some of whom may be looking for more exposure. The City is open to things it never would have considered before. There may even be money available there, but if not then companies like Benjamin Moore seem willing to donate paint for worthy community projects.

If the city or owners rebuff the offer of a simple makeover, then do it anyway. A quick coat of paint and some simple murals or colour blocking over the papered and plywooded windows. Guerrilla style if necessary. If a given property owner is absolutely resistant to receiving a makeover, then go zero tolerance all over *them. On an individual basis rather than routing every business below a given level, thereby setting the stage for a corporate takeover of the street.

I'm just trying to say be careful what you ask for, and why not enjoy the ride because these are the golden days of James Street North. There are plenty of golden days ahead but they won't last forever, so why do we have to do this so fast?

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