Time to pay attention to main street, Mr. Tory

City & province need to make an effort, or we’ll be left with nothing but faceless chain stores


Published:

Unique main streets with thriving local businesses make neighbourhoods more livable

When I go for a coffee, I frequent a small, local independent café, same goes for restaurants and other services. These operations are high on service and offer a superior product often sourced locally or at least roasted in house, and they serve as little community hubs. But I’m worried that the city has forgotten about them and other independent business. 

A lot of ink has been spilled over the raising of the minimum wage and the speed at which it has been implemented, but I’m OK with the increase. 

If you work 40 hours a week for $11 per hour, it simply means that even an average one-bedroom apartment in the city is unattainable, let alone, you know, food. That being said, I do think our elected officials in all levels of government are making themselves look good on the backs of small businesses struggling to survive. 

If we aren’t careful, we might lose them forever and we’ll be stuck with every main street in our amazing neighbourhoods filled with bland and ordinary franchises owned by faceless corporations who care little for your kids’ soccer team. 

Wherever I travel in Ontario, when I pull in to a town or city, I’m greeted by the same plazas with the same big box stores and franchise restaurants, most of which aren’t even Canadian companies at all. Yes, I’m looking at you, Tim Hortons. 

Is that what we want to see in south Bayview, Yonge-Lawrence, Forest Hill Village or on the Eglinton Way? No, definitely not. But that’s what we are going to get if something isn’t done. And the people losing their businesses won’t be shareholders in Brazil. 

These businesses are being hit from many directions at once. Our runaway real estate market has resulted in massive property tax increases that landlords immediately pass on to their tenants leasing out space for restaurants, bookstores and salons. (On top of that, Ontario’s Commercial Tenancies Act does not regulate rent increases.)

The city has talked of capping tax increases, but nothing is approved as of yet, and small businesses continue to suffer. 

Even if they do get approved, it’s a stop-gap measure. What is needed is the the creation of a special tax classification for these businesses to give them some relief and breathing room so they can continue to pay living wages and help create a vibrant street life in our communities. 

It can be done. To that end, the city is also studying creating special tax classes for things such as live music venues. 

I want to see independent and unique businesses thrive in Toronto. It makes for a better city. Hopefully, this will be an important election issue.

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Ron Johnson is the editor of Post City Magazines. Follow him on Twitter @TheRonJohnson.

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