Jam packed with students, tourists and affluent professionals alike, the Annex is a smorgasbord of both lifestyle and business.
The Bloor West neighbourhood sandwiched between Bathurst Avenue and Avenue Road is as famous for its shopping and dining variety as it is for its student renters and hip locale.
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The Madison Avenue Pub (14 Madison Ave.) has been a microcosm of the Annex itself for almost thirty years — on any given night you can see as many suits as hoodies slung over the backs of chairs and plenty of older souls sipping beers confidently amongst the tide of students digging into buckets of wings. General manager Jim McCardle says after 14 years running the Madison, he’s still amazed at how well the mixture of cultures, age groups and lifestyles meshes in the Annex.
“The homes are huge, the gardens well-kept, it’s a unique little package of shops, restaurants and homes and it’s very cosmopolitan.” McCardle said.
At the Kensington Natural Bakery & Cafe (460 Bloor St. W.), owner Quang Dieu fights against fast food by offering preservative-free pastries and dishes crafted for special dietary needs.
He moved his business from Kensington Market to the Annex 20 years ago because he saw it as an up-and-coming area. Today, he feels the Annex has lost some of its soul as franchises and corporate supermarkets have pushed some of the smaller businesses out, but he still loves the vibrancy of the area.
“It’s different now, the hippies have moved on and that spirit is gone. A lot of the older businesses have closed here but I still like this area. When you ask people about the downtown, everyone knows the Annex,” Dieu said.
Recent years have seen a shift as more professionals are moving back into the area, buying up former student rental houses and bringing their higher incomes with them, which is all fine for Sydney Mendlewitz, owner of The Pump (410 Bloor St. W.) bar and restaurant.
“The rooming houses are going out and the single units are going in. It’s very competitive as a result — three full-service pubs have opened up in the last three years alone. It keeps you sharp and it’s better for everyone,” Mendlewitz said.
Risque (404 Bloor St. W.) owner Ondina Carvalho started selling trendy clothing more than two decades ago when the Annex was a quiet hangout for the older generation compared to the hip maelstrom of youth culture it is today.
She says businesses that have embraced the area’s transformation to focus on the younger demographic of people in their 20s and 30s have thrived to create a healthy business climate for each other.
“The Annex has changed tremendously in 21 years. It’s a lot younger and funkier, it’s a lot trendier. About five years ago, I feel the neighbourhood became really complementary, with all the businesses here finally attracting the same kind of crowd and complementing each other well,” Carvalho said.
She says the area hums with vitality and excitement.
“The Annex is alive. There are always people out, the streets are packed, especially in the summer and there’s a great energy here,” Carvalho said.