Last month Toronto City Council approved a proposal to transform an historic CNR locomotive shop in Leaside’s industrial park into a large shopping development, and some worry it means the loss of what little land is left in the city for manufacturers — and the high-paying jobs that come with them — and it threatens local, main-street retailers.
But some small business owners embrace the idea. Ingrid Laederach Steven, owner of Swiss-Master Chocolatier, near Bayview Avenue and York Mills Road, says she has no concerns about potential big box stores.
“Competition is the best way of keeping us on our toes,” she said. “I am a full advocate of entrepreneurship. It’s what keeps this country going.”
Nathan Ricci, owner of Ricci Fine Jewellery, also on Bayview Avenue, has a similar view. “I believe in business,” he said. “It brings traffic.”
Others question the positive impact of the plan.
“This is a huge site that we are now losing to big box retail,” said Coun. Janet Davis during a March 8 council meeting, emphasizing that the Laird Drive land helps drive the city’s economy and should be preserved for industrial use. Kendall Fullerton, a member of the Leaside Business Park Association, echoes Davis’s concerns.
Coun. John Parker said it was best to focus on making the retail site amenable to the community. The developer — First Capital — reduced the size of the proposed buildings from 180,000 square feet to 117,650 square feet. The CNR property will house a grocery store and a main street concept that will see eight buildings and parking designed to emulate retail strips on Bayview Avenue, for example.
As for the effects the new retail will have on small business, Coun. Parker said it’s negligible. “I have yet to see a connection between the decision to shop on Laird and the decision to shop on Bayview,” he said. “Different types of shops attract different types of shoppers.”