Posted: Jul 9, 2008, 1:25 PM
Join Date: May 2005
great piece in the Star.
Hope to see this in Hamilton sometime soon.
Grocery chains develop a taste for urban living
Jul 08, 2008 04:30 AM
There was a time, not so long ago, when it seemed the grocery chains had forgotten that city dwellers also eat.
No longer: across Toronto, supermarkets are popping up now as never before.
Though some food sellers have had difficulty understanding the urban market, others clearly have it all figured out. The rules might seem obvious, but they elude some of the major players. Stuck in the 1950s and ´60s, they're still out searching for large sites with room for hundreds of parking spots. Not surprisingly, there aren't a whole lot of these left in the city, or the suburbs for that matter, but many corporations are deeply conservative and glacial in their response to change.
So while some chains appear to have less presence in Toronto these days, others are suddenly everywhere. Consider the case of Sobeys, which opened its most recent outlet on Balliol St. in North Toronto. Situated in an old strip mall, it is smaller than most grocery stores, and has fewer than 10 parking spaces in front.
In its three-week existence, it has already become part of the neighbourhood. Rather than cater to customers who show up Saturday mornings and fill several carts, this is a store for locals who shop on their way home several times weekly.
Balliol is a street lined with highrise apartments, which means there are enough people who live locally to make the shop viable.
By contrast, the Loblaws at Jarvis St. and Queens Quay, with its enormous parking structure, attracts shoppers from all over the city. It's located close to the Gardiner (that could change if Waterfront Toronto gets its way and manages to have the raised expressway torn down east of Jarvis), and is in an area that doesn't yet qualify as a residential neighbourhood.
Farther west, at Queens Quay and York St., Sobeys installed a supermarket in Queen's Quay Terminal that finally succeeded in bringing life to a complex that was previously geared toward a summertime/ tourist market. In the meantime, the area had become home to thousands of people living in the condo towers that line the street.
Sobeys has also opened a store on Front St. E. near Sherbourne St., a part of town that until very recently food chains would have avoided like the plague.
According to real estate analyst Barry Lyon, the grocery store, with daycare and dog walking area, is an urban essential. When it arrives, he says, so has the neighbourhood.
Certainly, officials with Toronto Community Housing were thrilled when Sobeys signed up to be part of the rebuilt Regent Park. Originally, there were virtually no retail outlets within the boundaries of the housing complex. In its own Utopian way, the attitude toward shopping embodied in old Regent Park set the stage for subsequent suburban growth. But the idea that stores should be kept out of neighbourhoods makes only limited sense, especially at a time when we are under pressure to use the city more intensely, to take advantage of its every opportunity.
Until recently, it seemed the only places to buy groceries downtown were those 24-hour food stores best known for their exorbitant prices. Their day may be coming to an end.
The return of the grocery store is a strong sign of Toronto's good health. Of course there's nothing new about the idea, but cities are only now emerging from their time in the wilderness, a period when they were thought to be the problem. Now we know cities are the solution, and a good place to go shopping for groceries.[/I]