Owner Ted Genova, who plans to maintain his St Lawrence Market location on Jarvis Street, says Church Street business has been terrible. He blames gentrification, high rents and an apathetic community that refuses to fight to keep the Village queer.
“The community doesn’t really support the stores on Church Street anymore, does it? Look at Loblaws. It’s full of gay people shopping. That’s why Pusateri’s is suffering, and other stores are going out of business . . . I can’t afford to stay there anymore.”
Twenty years ago, things were different, he says. Residents, activists and businesses worked together to fight for rights, define a sexual liberation movement, and carve out a space in Toronto to call their own.
Genova was president of the local business association at the time, years before it became the BIA. He remembers a time when putting up a rainbow flag on a business was an act of rebellion. He says the gay community fought hard to stake a claim on the Church Wellesley Village. Now it’s slipping away, he says.
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Church Street has become a vastly different place from those early days of the gay rights movement. Today, gay and lesbian people are largely safe living out and proud and have spread into every corner of Toronto. Meanwhile, gentrification and the condo boom have also had a lasting effect on the Village.
Genova sees the problem as a loss of community. He has watched small and gay-owned businesses be forced out by increasingly high rents only to be replaced with corporate chains and franchises.
And the signals have been there for the past five years, he says. Reither's German deli closed abruptly in March after 23 years and became David’s Tea. Zelda’s restaurant, which was for a long time seen as an anchor of the Village, moved to Yonge Street in 2009; its former home then stayed vacant for almost two years, only to reopen as Second Cup and Acme Burger. The Barn, another 20-year Church Street mainstay, cleared its dancefloor for the last time in August 2012.
The theme of the commercial decline of Church and Wellesley has come up frequently, for instance in connection to Loblaws 60 Carlton, a giant grocery store several blocks south of Church and Wellesley that was subject of a December 2012 photo essay and that has been blamed for the decline of many smaller stores further north.
Houston's other interviewees suggest that what's happening in Church and Wellesley is that, as the GLBT community continues to diffuse beyond the neighbourhood, the neighbourhood's identity will become folkloric. (Spacing's Matthew Blackett suggests that Little Italy might be a good model.) Some new businesses with GLBT owners