By Mario Toneguzzi
The Beach Village area in Toronto has undergone a recent transformation as it continues to welcome new retailers and businesses to the neighbourhood with a strategic plan and effort to revitalize it.
Anna Sebert, the Executive Director of the Beach Village BIA (Business Improvement Area), said 12 new ventures have either recently opened or will soon open in the district.
“It’s amazing. This has been pretty unprecedented,” she said. “People are being more positive about the area. And that’s a huge win for us.’
They include: Both Bruno’s (coming soon); East Toronto Vascular Clinic; Marvelous Beauty Lounge; The Vape Pub; Scholar’s Education Centre; Isabella's Boutique restaurant (moved to a bigger location in the Beach); Beaches Brew Co.; Big Bruce Public House; Toronto Popcorn Company; Derma Bar; Blue Cloud Cafe; and The Sweet Oven.
When the Beach Village BIA put together an aggressive retail revitalization plan for its lakeside community back in the winter, it faced significant challenges including a 13 per cent vacancy rate and a stream of negative media coverage about the area’s business prospects.
Zenergy Communications was brought on to spur marketing and media relations efforts in the region as a business recruitment plan was developed, and several major events were launched throughout the spring and summer to drive foot traffic and increase spending in the area.
Sebert said those efforts are paying off as several new businesses are taking a foothold in the area.
The Beach Village BIA is made up of about 320 shops, restaurants, and services along Queen Street East running from Lockwood Road to Neville Park Boulevard. It is slightly north of Lake Ontario in the eastern part of Toronto.
Sebert said about 24 per cent of the businesses are retail and services is the largest sector with about 46 per cent followed by food and drink at about 27 per cent. Art and entertainment is about three per cent.
“Mostly our businesses are small, independent retailers. Mom and pop shops. That kind of thing,” she said.
“Our name The Beach Village alludes to the fact that we are a small town within the city. It’s kind of like this little pocket of its own in the east. A lot of people kind of consider the end of our BIA as the unofficial end of Toronto. It’s a nice little pocket where you can go to the beach and then you can stroll around. We’ve got some larger sidewalks. We’ve got Kew Gardens which is a huge park in the area - used to host Jazz Fest for 25 years.
“It’s a very community centric neighbourhood as well. Everybody kind of knows each other - that kind of feel.”
Sebert said the neighbourhood has experienced changes in recent years. Development which has taken place in the western part of the city has slowly moved east to The Beach Village.
“I think a lot of people want things to stay the same but they’re not. It’s very cyclical down here at The Beach and I think a lot of people for many years were thinking ‘oh it was better in the 80s, better in the 90s’. There’s a little bit of a raise in the vacancy rate. That came from a multitude of reasons. You did have people buying properties for development as that was slowly coming in,” she said.
“Then you had some people as the commercial property taxes went up the area was sought after and rents became a little more expensive. Only really people who were providing great products, great experiences were the ones who were surviving. It was becoming tough. But that’s something we’re definitely seeing a change in. We do have some great landlords down here who are willing to work with people and breathe some new life into here.”
The BIA recently did a streetscape master plan with the City of Toronto to guide the vision of the street for the future and build a brand identity.
“That’s great and that’s what we always do but this year we actually have started to do a business recruitment strategy and that is beyond the scope of what BIAs normally do. We normally don’t have the funding for that kind of thing - the labour, the time. But I was actually granted a grant from the City of Toronto’s BIA office - an innovation grant - to work on this business recruitment strategy,” said Sebert.
“Right now we have talked to and surveyed businesses, landlords, residents and we’re really trying to develop a more comprehensive marketing strategy to really promote this area as the place to do business.
“I think we’ve always had that really great base of what we do. We do our movies in the park. We do retail shopping events. We do Christmas events. We do banners and baskets. We make the street look beautiful. But I think now that we’ve got that foundation we’re starting to build on it and I think we’ve already seen some great responses from our businesses who want to get involved and that’s really going to continue to help us especially in recruiting more independent businesses to the area and as we see that already happening we can start featuring that and getting them to be involved in the process. Let’s try to bring in more people.”
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary has 37 years of experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, city and breaking news, and business. For 12 years as a business writer, his main beats were commercial and residential real estate, retail, small business and general economic news. He nows works on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Email: email@example.com.