BUSINESS · LIFE · Walkabout: Jeff Walker March 1st, 2017

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You think the plazas are killing Bayview?

Tramping this and a nearby commercial strip leads writer to a different conclusion

Jeff Walker Walkabout column logoWe frequently hear griping from both store people and shoppers that the new plazas east of Laird Drive are killing business on Bayview Avenue.

If that’s the case, then Mt. Pleasant Road should have a lower rate of store vacancies, given that it’s twice the distance from Laird that Bayview is. On the other hand, if Bayview is actually no worse off than Mt. Pleasant by that measure, then perhaps Bayview’s seemingly high rate of vacancies is more a matter of “times are tough all over” than of failing to compete with the big boxes on Laird.

To test this hypothesis I went up and down both sides of each street, with pen and pad in hand. Bear in mind this is a journalist equipped only with basic arithmetic skills, not a social scientist from the University of Toronto sociology department.

For Bayview’s west side I counted all the stores, restaurants, etc. from Balliol Street to one block north of Eglinton Avenue East.

For its east side I covered Eglinton to one block south of Millwood. I ignored Sunnybrook Plaza since vacancies there reflect the plaza’s impending demolition and replacement by a huge complex. I ignored side-street shops and counted only street-level establishments. Via quick peeks inside, I subjectively estimated each establishment as small, medium, large or huge (sorry for getting so technical here, folks)—assigning a size rating of 1, 2, 3 or 4 to each respectively.

On Bayview the result was 135 places awarded 252 points for size adjustments, and 10 vacancies awarded 21 points after size adjustments. And so — doing some basic math — 21 over 252 gives a size-adjusted vacancy rate of 8.3 percent.

For Mt. Pleasant’s east side, I traced just south of Millwood northward to Eglinton. For Mt. Pleasant’s west side I covered Eglinton (the block north of Eglinton is under construction) south to Belsize Drive. I ignored here what I ignored on Bayview.

Result: 145 places awarded 239 points after size adjustments; 12 vacancies awarded 19 points after size adjustments. And 19 over 239 gives a size-adjusted vacancy rate of 8.0 percent on Mt. Pleasant.

Well then, does Bayview’s .3-percent (8.3 – 8.0) higher vacancy rate than Mt. Pleasant mean Bayview is slightly worse off? Actually, no.

Three of Bayview’s 10 vacancies are in one large building, the same building, ironically, that once housed the Town Crier’s offices a few decades ago. Though 1560 Bayview at Belsize cozily accommodates the likes of Nails and Spa, the Big Stretch Yoga and the Polaris Learning Centre on the upper levels, there’s a problem at street level. Namely, there is no street level, not really. People have to descend five steps to store-level. The entrances to two of those stores are found at the bottom of a wheel-chair ramp that extends south and then north nearly the whole length of the storefronts, a psychological barrier to sidewalk traffic, like a mini-Gardiner Expressway alienating downtowners from the waterfront.

Let’s face it. People like to walk straight into street-level stores from the sidewalk. They don’t want to descend several steps and then ascend several steps upon exiting, especially carrying weighty shopping bags. And I’d guess that people in wheelchairs would rather not be obliged to go up and down that long ramp. If the architects of the building at 1560 Bayview had anticipated this resistance, their design would have been quite different. As is, it’s both flawed and unfixable.

I began by saying I would count only street-level stores. However, technically the three vacancies at 1560 Bayview are not at but below street-level. I shouldn’t have included them. Bad boy. The required recount reduces Bayview’s total establishments count to 132, its size-adjusted points to 247, its vacancies to 7, and its size-adjusted vacancy rate to or 6.5 percent (16 over 247).

By the criteria above, then, Bayview’s street-level establishments’ vacancy rate of 6.5 percent is actually a full one and a half percentage points lower than Mt. Pleasant’s 8 percent.

So, the much-uncovetted Charlie Chaplin “little tramp” award for simulating Great Depression conditions (I just made it up) goes to — tuhdah — Mt. Pleasant!

Certainly at this point in time, Bayview, despite being so much closer to the big-box competition on Laird, it looks like you’re faring better than Mt. Pleasant.