'Under siege by thugs': Church and Wellesley businesses call for help after spate of violent crimes

Local business owners in the Church and Wellesley area say they are being pushed out by rising crime after a series of violent incidents in the neighbourhood.

Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam says more community policing needed to protect small businesses

Diane Dai says she carries around this baton after her store was the target of several thefts. (Barry Smith/CBC)

Local business owners in the Church and Wellesley area say they are being pushed out by rising crime after a series of violent incidents in the neighbourhood.

"I don't know if I'll be able to stay if something isn't done soon to stop the thuggery in the neighbourhood," Steve Dawson, owner of Dudley's Hardware, told CBC Toronto.

The hardware store — a staple on Church street for over 80 years — had its front windows smashed in last Friday, Dawson said.

Flyers titled "Church & Wellesley under siege by thugs" can be seen on several storefronts in the area (Barry Smith/CBC)

The store owner said this comes after two prior violent confrontations with an individual in a mask who damaged his goods and threatened to kill him.  

Police arrested a suspect in Friday's incident, but Dawson said he spotted the same individual back in the neighbourhood Tuesday.

"What we are finding is that there is a revolving door system, where people are apprehended for an incident then in a short period of time they're back in the neighbourhood," said Ward 27 Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam. 

Wong-Tam said she wants to see more proactive, community-based policing to stop the violence. 

"What we've seen is an escalation of violence largely not from members of the community, but from people who are coming into the community to prey on members of the community," she said.

Two Church street businesses opened a portion of the wall between them to be able to keep an eye out for each other after a recent spate of violent crimes in the neighbourhood. (Barry Smith/CBC)

'We don't want to back down'

Local business owners agree. Flyers titled "Church & Wellesley under siege by thugs" can be seen on several storefronts in the area. 

"In the last three to six months, we've noticed the neighbourhood doesn't feel as safe as it used to," said Claire McLeod, the owner of Ladybug Florist on Church Street. "I feel like they are a lot more people in the street who are panhandling, who are fighting in the streets."

Wong-Tam says many of the offenders in the area are individuals with mental health issues or drug addiction issues and better coordination between mental health services and police is badly needed.

In the meantime, McLeod said her customers don't feel as comfortable shopping in the neighbourhood anymore because they are getting harassed when coming into the stores.

But McLeod, who has also been in the neighbourhood for 20 years, said she is not prepared to quit.

Claire McLeod says her many of her customers don't feel safe anymore after witnessing fights or being harassed on the way in to her store. (Barry Smith/CBC)

'I've lost about $20,000'

She coordinated with the neighbouring store to remove a portion of the wall between them so that they can help keep an eye on each others' cash registers.

"We don't want to back down, we want to look out for each other, we want to help each other," McLeod said.

But for Diane Dai, the increase in crime is too much.

"It's just not safe anymore," said Dai, who is closing her Church Street pet store after 20 years in business.

Dai has installed 16 cameras in her store and keeps a baton nearby but she said it's not enough.

"I've lost about $20,000," Dai said. "It's getting to the point where you should just pack up and go."

With files from Ali Chiasson