'We're being squeezed out': Locals try to save Parkdale restaurant amid gentrification worry
Cost of monthly rent doubled for family-run restaurant after big chain offered to move in
An online petition to save a longtime Parkdale restaurant is spotlighting gentrification in Toronto, after the local eatery revealed that skyrocketing rent will force it out of business.
Tibet Kitchen, a Queen Street West staple for over a decade, is facing a sudden doubling of its monthly rent. According to the owners of the restaurant, a major chain has reportedly offered to move into the commercial space.
Small business owners throughout the city have faced similar struggles amid a constant march toward higher and higher rental rents that some landlords say is the new reality in Toronto.
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James Aufricht created the petition on Change.org. He said the family-run restaurant is an important part of the Parkdale community.
"I've gotten to know the owner really well ... I believe he is the type of person who makes Parkdale a great place," Aufricht said.
With more than 1,200 signatories, the petition calls on Coun. Gord Perks to circumvent a city bylaw that keeps a limit on how many restaurants and bars operate on Queen Street West between Dufferin Street and Roncesvalles Avenue.
Tibet Kitchen has found a vacant space nearby where it could relocate, but that would require a special provision because the popular strip is at full capacity when it comes to place to eat and drink.
If I start waiving the rules to help one guy move to one location, it's not really being fair.- Gord Perks, city councillor
"[The bylaw] was meant to prevent Parkdale from being overrun with late night drinking establishments," Aufricht said, adding that he thinks some flexibility within the bylaw is appropriate.
But Councillor Gord Perks called an exemption for one specific business a "dangerous precedent."
Perks said that if councillors have the ability to change bylaws without a city-wide change on policy, "the opportunities for abuse are just too large."
'We're all trying to get by'
Just next door to Tibet Kitchen, is another favourite local haunt, The Mezz. The bar briefly closed its doors this year after seeing a major rent hike of its own.
It's a pattern that has led some Parkdale residents feeling that they will soon be on the outside looking in.
"There's this sense that we're being squeezed out of this neighbourhood," said Andrea Townsend, who has called Parkdale home for nine years.
"We're behind these businesses, we're behind these people. They're trying to feed their families, like the rest of us who are trying to get by."
The west-end neighbourhood has been especially vocal in speaking out against what some see as creeping gentrification, from petitions to tenant rent strikes earlier this summer.
Frazer Mackay, a 15-year-resident, called the neighbourhood a big family and small business closures can feel like a personal loss for the community.
"We all support each other and this is where we spend our money ... it's like your brother, your sister, your cousin saying 'I just lost my job.'"
No limits on commercial rent rates
Toronto's housing and rental market have seen drastic jumps in prices in recent year, in some instances prompting action from the province. In April, the Ontario government closed a loophole that previously allowed residential landlords to raise rent beyond the annual rate of inflation.
But no such law exists when it comes to commercial rent rates.
Sean McLellan, owner of The Mezz, said all small business owners in the city are at the mercy of landlords who accept lease bids from big brand chains.
"This isn't about one restaurant, it's about every private business owner across the city, being able to provide a service, charge a reasonable rate and make a living — and not spend their life working for their landlord," said McLellan.
McLellan added that despite re-opening the bar, he's not sure how long it will last if the landlord approaches him with another major rent hike.
Perks said municipal governments are told "all the time" by the province that they cannot define relationships between businesses.
"It's a very different thing for the government to tell businesses what they can charge each other for a lease. That opens up a whole can of worms."