Toronto

Amid 13% business vacancy rate, campaign aims to bring people back to the Beach

In order to tackle a 13 per cent business vacancy rate, the Beach Village BIA recently announced a campaign called “Back to the Beach Village,” which involves promoting area businesses and re-establishing the neighbourhood as a go-to spot.

Local BIA wants to promote neighbourhood and its businesses as go-to spot

Amber Richman wants to rent out her property along Queen Street East, but she said even with the rent as low as she can go, she's having trouble finding a tenant. (Taylor Simmons/CBC)

While much of the city deals with rising rents, landlord Amber Richman is dropping hers to the lowest she can manage.

She's rented out a commercial property along Queen Street East in the Beach for about 10 years, with her latest tenant leaving the storefront vacant in December.

She's gone down to about $30 per square foot to try to find a new tenant while, according to her, some landlords around her flower shop on nearby Kingston Road are renting for $40 to $45.

"I can't go any lower," she said.

"It is unnerving a little bit because we've done everything we can do."

Richman points to high property taxes, slow foot traffic and an increasingly changing retail landscape as some reasons why the Beach specifically might be suffering, but she's hoping a new initiative might help boost interest in the area.

Richman said she and her husband bought the storefront as a 'retirement plan,' and they're hoping to find a long-term tenant for the space. (Taylor Simmons/CBC)

The Beach Village BIA recently announced a campaign called "Back to the Beach Village," which involves promoting area businesses and re-establishing the neighbourhood as a go-to spot.

The BIA represents 300 businesses along Queen Street East between Lockwood Road and Neville Park Boulevard. Among them there's a 13 per cent vacancy rate, according to executive director Anna Sebert.

"All of our programs, our strategies, are just going back into trying to improve that economic development and really improve the vacancy rate," she said.

'Back to the Beach Village'

A key goal of the campaign will be to highlight the east-end area as a historic spot for gathering as well as advertising the range of shops and activities it has to offer.

The association also plans to launch a business recruitment strategy. This will include researching and conducting surveys with local businesses, residents and landlords in order to gather information on market conditions to increase economic development.

This year, the BIA will also add two wayfinding totems and two new parkettes along Queen Street East as part of its recently completed streetscape master plan.

Sebert said the association is taking "a more holistic approach" to improving the area.

Anna Sebert said the campaign will remind people of the history of the Beach as a sought-after destination, as well as promote the businesses along the strip. (Anna Sebert)

Manager of the Danforth Mosaic BIA, which is assisting in the efforts, Colin Johnson said the area could also try new ideas, such as pop-up programs, which involve landlords giving new businesses some free or reduced rent to allow entrepreneurs to test out their ideas.

Johnson said a similar program brought the Danforth Mosaic BIA's member vacancy rate from 20 per cent down to three per cent.

"The success stories are out there," he said, adding the focus on economic development and marketing is extremely important in the east end.

"Development is mostly finished in the west end of Toronto so we're gonna see a lot of changes coming to this neighborhood."

According to the Beach Village BIA, the area is dealing with a 13 per cent vacancy rate among local businesses. (Taylor Simmons/CBC)

President of Beaches Brewing Co. Carl Pratt is hoping a reboot of the area will be one of his keys to his success.

He's in the process of leasing a 2,200 square-foot space in the middle of Queen Street East to open a brew pub. It used to house a restaurant, which closed just over a year after opening, he said.

With developers purchasing some of the bigger houses being sold in the area, Pratt said he believes condos will soon be up along the strip.

"If you have a younger crowd…then there's gonna be more street traffic, more opportunity for retail," he said.

"It can be tough, but if you execute your plan well then you can do a good job."

Carl Pratt currently runs his business out of Scarborough, but he wants to give it a home in the middle of his neighbourhood in the Beach. (Taylor Simmons/CBC)

To compensate for the high rent, Pratt plans to sell his beer during low seasons, betting on the residents in the Beach to keep him afloat.

As a Beach resident herself, Richman also said she'd like to see more people in the local shops.

"I've seen a lot of turnover and I can't tell you why that is, I wish I could," she said.

"If we want this to look good down here and have businesses that last forever and people to be here forever, you need to support them."

About the Author

Taylor Simmons

Associate Producer, CBC Toronto

Taylor Simmons works in all areas of the CBC Toronto newsroom, from writing for the website to producing TV and radio stories. Taylor grew up in Mississauga, Ont. and studied journalism at Western University. You can reach her at taylor.simmons@cbc.ca.

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