Sport is big business in North Toronto’s Downsview neighbourhood, bringing in clients that help other small businesses prosper as well.
The sports and recreation halls that have sprung up in Downsview Park since the old army base was closed in 1996 tend to draw a steady stream of sports-minded clients from across the GTA and beyond.
At The Rail Skate Park (75 Carl Hall Rd., Unit 11), located in the heart of Downsview Park’s commercial strip, owner William Mok says finding customers hasn’t been hard because the area’s reputation as a recreation hub.
“Downsview is a great hub for sports. Our clientele comes from all over, even outside of the city. We get people from as far away as Maple, Newmarket and Barrie. I think it’s a great advantage to be here,” Mok said.
Mok’s experience at Downsview in the four years since he bought The Rail has been positive, though he wants to see a better direct transit connection built between Yorkdale Mall and the Park because getting to the Park without a car is challenging for his core clientele aged 14 and under.
“The other owners here are very friendly and we get along very well — we have monthly meetings to see how we can help each other out. I would like to see some improvement in the transportation. Yorkdale is a hotspot and if we could get some shuttling from there to Downsview Park that would be great,” Mok said.
To the west of the neighbourhood, residential streets built in the 1960s take over the landscape of Downsview and more traditional businesses take root. At Vic’s Hardware (1070 Wilson Ave.), third-generation owner Jerry Spinosa has seen the cycle of new, old and new again in Downsview directly. Vic’s Hardware opened in 1963 when the houses in Downsview were brand new and the client base was mostly monocultural. Spinosa says Downsview is different from back then, but mostly in good ways.
“This isn’t what I would consider and up-and-coming neighbourhood. You’re looking at small improvements over the length of time. It was predominantly European for decades, now it’s starting to be more multicultural, so it’s still a good place to do business overall,” Spinosa said.
The mall at Wilson Avenue and Keele Street where Vic’s Hardware sits recently got a facelift a few years ago and new condo developments in the area bring the promise of more potential customers.
“There’s more condos going up soon and that will help immensely. Obviously it increases the population density so you can get a bigger customer base,” Spinosa said.
Zuzi Montezuma sells organic body products at the market stand he opened just a year-and-a-half ago, Eli’s Body Shop, at the Downsview Park Merchant’s Market. He picked Downsview because of its mix of cultures and backgrounds to maximize the appeal of his cosmetic and health products. So far his choice is paying off.
“Because I don’t have any comparison to before the recession I haven’t seen tough times — my experience here has been great. My clientele list is growing each and every day and my aim is to eventually have many little franchises in flea markets around the GTA,” Montezuma said.