Forget about our doughnut-born-here story. And that "City of Waterfalls" campaign. This town has a new claim to fame.

Welcome to Hamilton, the payday-loan paradise.

Maybe you thought we had enough of them already. Money Mart, Cash 4 You, Cashmax, Speedy Money, Cash Money, Cash Store, Money Direct. Downtown is especially blessed. There’s another one every few paces.

They are spread out across the lower city, right to Stoney Creek. And the Mountain does well too.


Taco Bell takes a tumble at Dundurn and Main, and Cash Money gets ready to take over the corner. (Paul Wilson/ CBC)

But the city’s west end has been lagging behind. That’s about to change.

The intersection of Main and Dundurn is an important one, used by 30,000 vehicles a day. It is a main entrance to the heart of Hamilton off the 403.

Taco Bell understood that and built a new restaurant there 20 years ago. They put extra effort into construction, even added a bell tower. But fast food is a rough business. Sales declined, and so did the building.

The bell tower vanished. And suddenly, as reported right here last fall, so did Taco Bell itself. The building’s been empty since.

They even have a mascot

But now there are new banners in the windows: Cash Money Opening Soon.

MoneyMart is king, with more than 460 stores across the country – 13 in Hamilton. But Cash Money – the chain with a furry mascot named Cash-A-Roo – is no slouch.

Go to their website, punch in your Hamilton postal code, and you’ll get this message: "Congratulations! We have 20 stores near you!" But just five of those are in Hamilton – thus the scramble to catch the competition.

If Cash Money hands over $300 for 14 days, they’ll charge you $60 interest. Measuring interest the same way you do for your car loan or your mortgage, that works out to a rate of about 520 per cent.


With 13 stores in Greater Hamilton, Money Mart is never more than steps away. But they have lots of competiton in this loan-hungry town. (Paul Wilson/ CBC)

There was no response from Cash Money as to exactly when the doors will open in the old Taco Bell – or why they thought that would be a good location.

But perhaps any old corner is good. Payday loans are a $2 billion business in this country.

One Statistics Canada report said 10 per cent of young families had obtained a payday loan. It’s not hard to believe that with our poverty levels, the number is higher in Hamilton.

Pay your mechanic

There is a Canadian Payday Loan Association. And the president is none other than former CHCH reporter and Liberal MP Stan Keyes.

He’s had that job for seven years and believes payday loans truly help people in a crunch – a hydro bill that must be paid, for instance, or an unexpected car repair.

And the industry is not the cash bonanza many believe, Keyes says. There are, after all, bad debts to cover. Still, all these new stores tell you something.

The Canadian payday loan industry began in the early ‘90s. Before that, Keyes says, people had few options.


There are cheaper ways to borrow a few hundred dollars for a couple of weeks. (Financial Consumer Agency of Canada)

"Perhaps they had to take their TV to the pawnshop," he says. "Or borrow from family or friends. Or go to the pool hall and get money from someone who gives them a contract that involves physical harm."

But there are other options. The federal government’s Financial Consumer Agency of Canada lists several in its comprehensive report on payday loans.

If you needed $300 for a couple of weeks, it says, see if there’s a way to borrow on a line of credit at the bank. Or get overdraft protection on a bank account. Or get a cash advance on a credit card. These options cost $6 or $7, not $60 or more.

And they’re reasonable alternatives, because payday loan customers do need to already have a relationship with a bank. They’ll usually be asked for a bank statement, a pay stub, a blank personal cheque.

There are a dozen states in the U.S. where payday loan stores don’t operate. They don’t exist in Quebec either, because of the province’s restrictive cap on interest rates.

But here in Hamilton, Ontario, land of plenty, the hand of government is not so heavy. Look for a payday-loan store on your street soon.

Read more CBC Hamilton stories by Paul Wilson here.