Each Tuesday, Metro will be focusing on the small businesses within one of Toronto’s many neighbourhoods and how they keep their communities humming along.
Full of vibrance and life, much like its residents, Church and Wellesley Village has seen its businesses evolve with the changes in the larger community.
David Wootton, manager of the Church Wellesley Village Business Improvement Association, says the neighbourhood’s “shabby-chic” aesthetic has made it an attractive destination for upscale and bohemian tourists and residents alike.
“We are like a little nestled corridor in the city and there is an aesthetic to the village. It does have kind of an old-world feeling to it and there’s a lot of people on the sidewalk,” Wootton said.
The main changes to the neighbourhood Wootton has noticed have been the move away from gay-centred businesses to ones that, while still fully gay-friendly, now cater to a much wider client base as well.
“The village has changed as attitudes to LGBT people have changed — 15 or 20 years ago you’d come down here because it was the only place you felt safe — now you can go anywhere in the city and feel comfortable with who you are,” Wootton said.
While the tough economy has hit the village just as hard as other parts of the city, the village has weathered the storm rather well: Of the 107 businesses registered with the BIA, six closed this past year and three of them will be reopening in February and March.
Farhad Ghahremani, 41, owns the Eyes on Church optical store (483 Church St.) and says he has always thrived on the tight-knit nature of the Church and Wellesley community.
“The clientele here are very loyal and I always appreciate people who come from all around the city to support me. Most of my friends that I’m very close to started out as my clients,” Ghahremani said.
He says the changes in the area, which have seen LGBT clients extend their shopping habits to businesses in places like Church and Parliament or Queen Street West, have meant merchants here have had to take a much wider focus on a broad clientele.
“This area isn’t just for gay clients. I have a lot of straight clients that also live in this area and I have more straight clients these days than I did 10 years ago,” Ghahremani said.