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unimaginative2

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Agreed! That's a very good point, cdl. I don't really care what shops open there. The simple fact that they're organically developed, flexible retail spaces that are attracting hordes of people makes it a successful neighbourhood. If the chains (and don't forget the high-end "alternative" stores) push the lower cost shops to the west, that's fine with me. The onward march of downtown.
 

digitalcabana

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Bathurst And Queen: Reclaiming The Space

At the corner of Crack and Pizza
ADAM RADWANSKI
January 26, 2008
Globe & Mail

On a mid-January night, it's standing room only at Queen West's ground zero. The Meeting Place - a drop-in centre for the displaced that is run by St. Christopher House - is a popular target for those fed up with watching the corner of Queen and Bathurst decline.

They pass by the old bank building on the northwest corner, and they see the addicts hovering by its entrance. They see the dealers drawn to its clientele and hear the fights late at night. They may have little idea what goes on inside its walls, but many of them wish it weren't there.

Tonight, only a few of the 40-strong overflowing from folding chairs in the Meeting Place's main hall are its regular visitors. They're here, along with the rest, for a presentation by the 14th Division's finest on why the corner has been selected for a pilot project testing closed-circuit security cameras. For those who live or work in the vicinity, the explanation - it's one of downtown's most crime-ridden corners - comes as little shock.

But if the audience is united in acknowledging the problem, it's anything but when it comes to addressing it. A few days later, over the phone, a veteran officer will describe the difficulties in policing a trendy, liberal-minded downtown area that just happens to contain an intersection responsible for more distress calls than all but one other in the entire city. And tonight, after listening to a dry recitation of statistics and privacy assurances, a restless audience proves his point.

Middle-class residents complain of open drug dealing and wonder if the cameras won't just push it further onto their side streets. A young woman who works at the nearby community health centre worries that the cameras will deter drug users from taking advantage of her facility's harm-reduction programs. A member of the older, Eastern European crowd slowly being pushed out of the neighbourhood by the yuppie set complains that the police aren't doing enough to stop the area's slide. Younger activist types, a couple of them self-identifying as academics, question whether cops are really to be trusted. An employee of Rotate This, the popular local record store, bemoans a lack of compassion for addicts in the enforcement strategy. And a middle-aged man with an unkempt beard and frayed clothes makes the case that the streets are getting rougher because all the affluent newcomers have eroded their sense of community - and they are easy marks to boot.

By the end of it all, Inspector Paul Vorvis - the 14th Division second-in-command who has been chairing the meeting - looks a little shell-shocked. And yet, for all the acrimony, he's seeing signs of hope. Over the years, he says, the neighbourhood has grown "almost fatalistic" about the woes emanating from this troubled corner. But now, its members are taking ownership. Residents are talking to merchants. Merchants are talking to social workers. Social workers are talking to the police. The lines of communication are finally open.

At a corner most people walk by with their heads down, it's at least a start. But nobody is pretending it won't take a good while to dig Queen and Bathurst out of its hole.

DOWN IN THE HOLE

As the rest of once-grubby Queen West gentrifies at a feverish pace, its intersection with Bathurst stands out more by the day.

A block or two to the east are cafés and organic meat shops, leading into the SoHo Lite strip of upscale retail stores east of Spadina. A block to the west begins a dizzying array of galleries, boutiques, restaurants and bars that run past the bohemian paradise of Trinity Bellwoods Park and, with the odd break, into one of the trendiest nightlife strips in the city. There are condos to the south and townhouses to the north. But smack in the middle remains the domain of those unlikely to be welcomed in McDonald's at Queen and Spadina, let alone the Red Tea Box or the Drake Hotel.

Storefronts sit empty. The panhandlers are persistent year-round; in the summer, the squeegee kids join them. Dealers peddle their wares on the corner and in the back lanes. Home and car break-ins are rampant. After dark, there are fights, some that get out of hand. At all times of day, a vague sense of menace lingers.

It's the geographic equivalent of a perfect storm. On the northwest corner sits the Meeting Place, the granddaddy of a cluster of social services - among them a women's shelter, a youth drop-in centre and a health clinic specializing in needle exchange and other harm-reduction programs - in close proximity to each other. The southeast corner, outside the Big Bop nightclub, has long been a haven for a younger, more aggressive group of transients who turn up each summer armed with squeegees and sizable chips on their shoulders. With the sub shop on the northeast corner long vacated, the intersection's only active business is a Pizza Pizza on the southwest. Dark laneways to the north offer shelter for those who don't like doing business in public. And several long-standing bars to both the east and the west offer the promise of cheap drinks, no judgment and a lot of fights that need breaking up.

Nobody seems quite sure if the corner has got worse, or if it's just stubbornly resisted the evolution around it. "I can't honestly say whether it's escalated or is just more visible," says Arlyn Levy, a 45-year-old communications professional who has lived on a nearby street for the past eight years. "It feels like it's escalated. Five years ago or six years ago, I think we were all handing change to people on the street. And now it feels like a lot of the panhandling is more aggressive."

Robert Tajti, a 19-year veteran of the police force, seems to speak to both perspectives. As the 14th Division's crime analyst, he says that, "insofar as its crime rate is concerned," Queen and Bathurst has "stayed fairly static" - while the surrounding areas have shown a decrease in crime. But having worked the streets until last August, he doesn't quarrel with the perception that some things are getting worse. "My opinion as a street copper," he says, "is that there is an increase in the drug trade in the Queen-Bathurst area."

"I think what's happening there is the issues are probably much the same, but it's becoming gentrified," Insp. Vorvis says. "And the people that are coming in have young families and want to be part of the city scene, but they're less tolerant of issues and problems. I have no expectations that they should be tolerant. If I were living in the same area, I'd be concerned as well."

RESIDENTS RISE UP

The tipping point for that concern came last year, in the midst of the second consecutive summer in which the antisocial behaviour - linked by most locals to a growing crack trade - seemed more out of control than ever.

For some, the response was to lash out. Katie Matthews, owner of the upscale sex shop MissBehav'N at the corner of Queen and Tecumseth, made headlines by telling reporters that the area was "rapidly declining." Having been violently attacked by squeegee kids, Ms. Matthews (who could not be reached for this story) quit the local business association to protest against its perceived inaction.

Others, though, channelled their anger. Kathi Prosser was a crime victim twice over, her family's home broken into on two separate occasions within a month. After the high-profile nearby murder of Ross Hammond, a 32-year-old visitor from St. Catharines, she too turned up in a newspaper article lamenting the neighbourhood's slide. But rather than turning inward, Ms. Prosser - who has lived in the same house on nearby Robinson Street since her teenage years two decades ago - took it upon herself to rally her neighbours.

Knocking on doors to recruit a new residents association, she met with a receptive audience. "The people who started talking are all within two or three blocks of Queen and Bathurst and we just see the spider veins spill over from what happens at Queen and Bathurst," says Ms. Levy, who has taken a leading role alongside Ms. Prosser. "When people started talking ... they felt that there were more break-ins; some petty things like more bike theft, more vandalism. And certainly the crack use, the crack deals - that was a change too, seeing things by day that maybe you saw in alleys at night."

The residents association doesn't yet have a name or a formal structure. But it does have the attention of the local councillor, Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina). "I think there's no doubt you have people that are more aware in the neighbourhood," he says. "People were calling more, and that's what made me aware that I had to shift resources to this particular neighbourhood."

More importantly, from the residents' perspective, they caught the attention of the police. "We used to go to meetings 10 years ago and if there was a troubled community, they'd point the finger at us and say, 'There's issues here, it's a police issue, you fix it,' " Insp. Vorvis says. "What's happening more now, particularly with this community, is they'll come to meetings and they'll say, 'There's problems here, we know the police are doing something on it, maybe you could do more, but what we're interested in knowing is what we could do as a community to help solve the problem.' And I think that's paying huge dividends."

TAKING OWNERSHIP

If there's a cause for optimism, it surely comes in the form of Joe Verlezza - the unassuming 56-year-old owner of Portobello Market Café, which sits a block to the west of Bathurst straddling the trendy Queen West and the decidedly less trendy one.

Mr. Verlezza set up shop four years ago, and by last summer he was getting fed up. "The complaint is that when kids come to the area they have to see people that are drunk, drug deals out in the open," he says, seated at his café on a quiet weekday morning. "Soon, those people don't come back again. Soon, those people find some other place to shop."

Often, the business owners will head elsewhere as well. But Mr. Verlezza went the other route, investing himself in taking ownership of the corner via a recently revitalized West Queen West Business Association, where he now chairs the community relations committee, convening local meetings, organizing events and working with the police. And it's meant finally including the Meeting Place in the process, which seems to be slowly easing some of the corner's tensions.

"I think before we had these meetings, there were misconceptions about what St. Christopher did, what kind of business they conducted," he says. "When no one lays claim to an area, other forces take possession of that area by default," he says.

"... All of a sudden, there's a root that's planted, and that root is very hard to extricate because of the apathy. It becomes a circle. So what this neighbourhood has done now, by getting together, is have a will. We're going to reclaim that area."

THE MEETING PLACE

That reclamation, most ambitiously, starts with what might at first seem a rather modest endeavour: a new fence.

The exact purpose of the 1½-metre-high structure to be built along the Meeting Place's Queen Street façade, including the front steps notoriously popular for loitering, depends on whom you're talking to. To Mr. Verlezza, it's about beautifying the corner - about "making it a shining example of one of the gateways coming into our community." Mr. Pantalone seems to agree, calling it a "decorative fence" and noting that it's being accompanied by tree-planting and new lighting. But for the Meeting Place, it's about protecting its members.

Of the nearly 200 people who use the facility each day to socialize, attend learning sessions, build crafts, or do their laundry, an estimated 95 per cent suffer from addiction and mental-health problems. It's a different crowd from the one that gathers in the summer on the Big Bop corner; older, more diverse, and more heavily aboriginal. And the Meeting Place is struggling valiantly to get out the message that its visitors are just as much victims of the local dealers as anyone else.

"We acknowledge that local residents and other people who use the street have been concerned for their safety," says Maureen Fair, St. Christopher House's executive director. But many of her clients, she says, feel the same way. "A good number of them felt that that space had been taken away from them by others coming into the community - in particular, dealers."

It remains to be seen whether the fence, targeted for completion this summer, will make the corner safer or more beautiful. But if nothing else, the project - with a design by Howard Gerry, a local resident who teaches at the Ontario College of Art and & Design, and joint funding by the city and Mr. Verlezza's business association - seems to have helped to bring the Meeting Place into the loop.

"I think we're very lucky here, because there's been other cities, even other neighbourhoods in Toronto, where it's been open, hostile conflict between local residents and agencies," Ms. Fair says.

LOCAL BAROMETERS

The real test will come in the summer, when antisocial activity tends to pick up. But there are other barometers too and one of them sits right next door to the Meeting Place.

Of all the questionable local establishments, the Q Bar was by far the most questionable. Once merely another rough-and-tumble watering hole, by last year it had spiralled into something else.

"They were really allowing major dealing going on," Ms. Fair says. "What started happening two summers ago was much bigger dealers - they were coming in fancy cars, it was a completely different level of drug trafficking."

Under pressure from the locals, the city and the police jointly went about a crackdown. How exactly they achieved it remains somewhat vague, but the end result was that last year the Q Bar shut its doors for good. Today, it sits empty, yet another vacant storefront. It would not, on the surface, seem an overly attractive property; even the relentlessly optimistic Mr. Verlezza suggests that it has been "very difficult to rent."

But Robert Escoe, the real-estate agent charged with leasing it, disagrees. It's just overpriced, he says; in the end, it'll make a perfectly good spot for a nice little bistro.

A new spot for Queen West foodies right next door to ground zero? If that can happen, gentrification may truly know no bounds.
 

junctionist

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The more manicured look will lessen the perception that the "clients" are poor and vulnerable, and therefore easy targets for dealers. This along with the cameras may decrease the occurrence of dealings done on the sidewalk in broad daylight. That really discourages the general population and accelerates the downward spiral. More is needed than a fence, and it's disappointing that article suggests nothing else than these two preliminary measures. Summer is coming, after all.
 

unimaginative2

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The article makes it sound like you hit a wall a block from Bathurst on either side and suddenly you're on Skid Row. It's just an ordinary intersection that happens to have a pretty big drop-in centre
 

Jitterbugg

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^ Yeah, I've walked by there a thousand times and never thought it was that bad. If you dropped that walk-in center in Rosedale you would have a high crime block there too - but you've got to put it somewhere.

Lots of squeegee kids in the summer but I find they are generally harmless.

As far as Queen West being gentrified - it is, and that is sort of sad but as was said in earlier post there is still a lot of Parkdale left; I'm sure that is next to be niced up if the economy stays on course.

These artististic types shouldn't whine too much about gentrification; just walk a block north of Queen - Dundas is right there, rent is cheap, space is plentiful. You are artists right?...stop moaning, get creative. There are so many other areas with potential that could use the help - too much obsession with Queen West.
 

Towered

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These artististic types shouldn't whine too much about gentrification; just walk a block north of Queen - Dundas is right there, rent is cheap, space is plentiful. You are artists right?...stop moaning, get creative. There are so many other areas with potential that could use the help - too much obsession with Queen West.

I don't think it's quite that simple. Dundas simply doesn't have the same awesome Victorian architecture that makes Queen such a strong draw.
 

DENTROBATE54

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The article makes it sound like you hit a wall a block from Bathurst on either side and suddenly you're on Skid Row. It's just an ordinary intersection that happens to have a pretty big drop-in centre

HeavenPA048.jpg


:D!
 

Alley Kat

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Queen Street West Fire

BlogTO contains many very powerful photo images of the fire, plus comments: http://blogto.com/city/2008/02/6alarm_fire_at_queen_bathurst/

Also,

http://www.thestar.com/Speakout/Voices/article/306000

We asked you to tell us your memories of the heritage conservation district on Queen St. W., between Bathurst and Portland Sts., which was destroyed in a massive fire Feb 20. Here’s what you had to say:
I lived in the apartment above Suspect Video for three years. It was one of the most eclectic, exciting neighbourhoods I have ever had the fortune of being a part of. From the regular customers of Suspect to the clients of the Toller Cranston Gallery on the second floor, the block was never without some sort of interest or drama.
Lillian Manea, Toronto

I so love Queen St. Every Wednesday, except, coincidentally, this one. I hop aboard a streetcar outside the Four Seasons Centre and travel west toward my music lessons. I love looking out the window at all the different stores, apartments and restaurants; one feels rather Bohemian soaking up the atmosphere.
Cheryl McTasire, Toronto

As a youngster growing up at Queen and Bathurst in the late 1950s, I recall playing bicycle polo then taking my bike to Duke’s Cycle for repairs and parts. Also, in my later years, I refurbished an old bike with service and parts from the Duke’s store. Sadly, historic buildings are disappearing. Regards to the Duke family.
Jim Larocque, Edmonton

I used to live above 633 Queen St. W. for almost a year in the late 1990s. I was trying to make a go of living downtown as a young adult on the salary of someone fresh out of college. The area was wonderful, with tons of character, and lots of amenities nearby. In retrospect, it was a cramped existance in old buildings in what was considered a seedy area of town by many people I knew. But I wouldn't trade it for the world, it was so much of a fantastic experience.
Dana Bentley, Kitchener

For 8 years in the 1980s, I would walk or ride a streetcar on Queen St. W. from MacDonnell in Parkdale to Simcoe St. I danced, ate, met my friends, drew, shopped, worked and lived there. All good memories.
Debbie Billings, Kingston

Queen and Bathurst was my stomping ground. It was where the freaks hung out, the artists, musicians; the people who didn't quite fit in. It was slightly seedy and unpredictable. I drank there; I danced there; I went to more concerts than I can count. Last summer, I fell in love with a retro bike in the window of Duke’s Cycle. I went back a week later and bought it. Queen and Bathurst has been my second home for almost 15 years. I can't bear to think that it's all over.
Stephanie Quinlan, Toronto

I first visited Toronto in the spring of 1998 as an exhibitor at the One of a Kind Show. We stayed at the Grange Hotel and I discovered the Queen St. W. area and its shops and restaurants by walking it every day. I went back to Montreal enchanted by this trendy and dynamic neighborhood and I still clearly remember the first time I stepped in Duke’s Cycle. I immediately liked the shop’s vibe and its staff. Little did I know at that time the importance that Duke’s would eventually take in my life. I kept coming to Toronto a few times every year, met my wife during one of those trips in 2001, and finally moved here in the Fall of 2005. As an avid cyclist, it wasn’t too long before I needed some gear and I headed straight to Duke’s. The loss of Duke’s Cycle and all those other buildings and businesses has saddened me. This unique neighbourhood is the reason why I fell in love with Toronto in the first place and, since the day I moved here, it’s always been, and remains, my favourite area in the city.
Francois Boivin, Toronto

Nikolaou's is gone! My 37-year-old daughter is a cook (now production manager at Farmer's Daughter in Huntsville), and for 20 years, whenever she needed uniforms and I need kitchenware, we have gone together to Nikolaou's. We moved north from Toronto seven years ago, but we still go to Nikolaou's once a year. What are we going to do!
Joy Salmon Moon, Dorset

Few brick and mortar businesses have had a lasting impression in my life. There are too many bars and restaurants to include, I’m talking about actual shops. One in particular helped make me who I am today, Suspect Video. Suspect Video is a video store that specializes in indie and cult classic films. When I decided to start saving money so that I could backpack Europe (and later meet my wife there), it was Suspect where I would go. Each night I would pop in to rent several movies to fight off the temptation to join the boys at the bar. Yes, a video store helped me save money! Suspect on Queen will be sincerely missed and fondly remembered forever.
Dave Delaney, Toronto
 

urbandreamer

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Nikolaou's and dollar store are still there!

There was a huge number of suburban photographer types taking pictures today: insane. I've seen many fires before so I'm jaded. Unlike my childhood friend though, no one was killed in this fire so what's the big deal? Basically just four buildings were destroyed.

I've got this theory that this was a slow news week in Canada so in typical Toronto-vs. rest of the universe-style the Media made a big deal about it.
 

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Retail: New Book City

Queen West's literature row
SARAH TRELEAVEN
Globe and Mail
March 1, 2008

Toronto has its Little India and its Little Korea. Now, with the addition of a new Book City store set to open this weekend, Queen Street West is poised to become the city's Little Literature.

The busy strip between Bathurst and Trinity Bellwoods Park already supports two bookstores - Type, a boutique store near Gore Vale Avenue, and BakkaPhoenix, a science-fiction bookstore near Markham Street. But even as booksellers and patrons might welcome another sign that Toronto's indie bookstore scene is standing strong in the face of big-box chains, onlookers may still wonder why Book City chose a spot so close to its brethren.

Ian Donker, vice-president and general manager of Book City, says his store had been looking for an opportunity on that stretch of Queen West for almost 10 years, long before Type moved in. "It seemed like that's where all the cool people were going," he says.

Indeed, some of Mr. Donker's neighbours include trendy Italian restaurant Terroni, art shop and gallery Magic Pony, and luxe bakeshop Red Tea Box. Located at 716 Queen St. W., the store - which will be the sixth location for the mini-chain, after one at Yonge and Bloor closed down last week - replaces a television and VCR repair shop that served the area for 30 years.

At least one of Book City's new neighbours is reluctant to share her turf. Mika Bareket, buyer and manager of Type, as well as a former Book City employee, says she and her colleagues are concerned about the impending competition. "Even though this area is very active and there are a lot of readers in the neighbourhood, I'm not sure that there are enough to go around."

Mr. Donker says his new store won't disrupt the current bookstore balance. "It's certainly a very busy street for shoppers on weekends and on evenings, with a lot of people going down to restaurants. I think there's room for all three of us."

Chris Szego, manager of BakkaPhoenix, agrees. She says the three stores are distinct enough to cohabitate peacefully - and possibly even complement each other. "When it comes to specialty stores, it's like antique stores: The more you have closer together, everybody gets more traffic."

But Type clearly has more cause for concern than BakkaPhoenix about the arrival of Book City, which similarly aims to fulfill the role of a broadly encompassing community bookstore.

Mr. Donker says the new store will maintain the existing brand. "It's going to be a nice clean look, but we haven't done anything fancy. It's going to be definitely the Book City look with white bookcases and yellow valences.

"We always cater our tastes to the neighbourhood and this should be no different. It's a fairly artsy crowd so we're going to focus a little on that."

Type is determined to differentiate itself from the other indies, and Ms. Bareket says its careful selection of both staff and inventory makes a difference. "Our selection is definitely on the quirkier side, very much design-oriented. We like to think that we carry books that people will hold onto, that will look nice in their homes for years and years."

Type hosts events at popular Queen West venues - including the Gladstone Hotel and Camera Bar - and also has an event space and art gallery built into the store's basement. Ms. Bareket hopes that this will also help to set Type apart from Book City; Mr. Donker acknowledges that events have never been part of his chain's mandate. In addition to launches, Type hosts weekly storytime for children and a literacy program in partnership with neighbouring schools. "We run a lot of events that have no price tag and have nothing to do with increasing business - they're just community service," Ms. Bareket says.

And by all accounts, business is doing well. Type even opened a second location in Forest Hill Village last December - an impressive feat in the store's first year of business.

Type's concern about the impending competition may yet prove unnecessary, and Mr. Donker is optimistic that Book City's presence will only enhance the neighbourhood. "We hope that Queen Street is going to become a destination for books," he says. "I don't think there's going to be too much of a conflict. Of course, that's the opinion of the person coming in."
 

Long Island Mike

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Queen and Bathurst streets: One of Toronto' toughest spots?

DC: Interesting article on Queen and Bathurst Streets from January-It mentions the crime-ridden area and I felt that I was reading about a NYC neighborhood instead! I remember from my mostly 80s Toronto trips(1979-1990 basically) that the TPD and local residents would not tolerate such activity am I right? I never thought I would read about crime of this sort in Toronto the Good!! My thoughts here...LI MIKE
 

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