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Upwardly mobile Leaside clings to independent spirit

Upscale shopping and a family atmosphere are not mutually exclusive in Leaside, where an independent spirit still thrives.

Upscale shopping and a family atmosphere are not mutually exclusive in Leaside, where an independent spirit still thrives.


The peaceful enclave just south of Eglinton Ave. and bordered by Bayview Ave. and the Don Valley Parkway is known for its high-end independent stores, excellent schools and charming side streets.


Liz Welsh grew up in Leaside and opened her clothing store Cornflower Blue (1606 Bayview Ave.) 14 years ago in what was then a very different neighbourhood.


“This area was just starting to get upscale, it was not as modernized as this. Today, people have got money here, it’s a very affluent neighbourhood and we are a destination — people make a point of coming here,” Welsh said.


The biggest change Welsh has seen is the influx of new, young families into the area as the previous generation moved on.


“A lot of the people that used to live around here have kids who have grown up and moved out, so there are more new families with kids coming in,” Welsh said.


Unlike some more commercialized business areas in Toronto, Leaside has kept its soul despite its success, as most stores have stayed independently owned and retail chains have for the most part stayed away. Welsh says business owners generally stick together and support each other here.


“It’s still a friendly neighbourhood to be in. If there is competition it’s good competition because there are still a lot of independent stores here,” Welsh said.


Terry Wei owns two restaurants in the area, including Lemongrass (1630 Bayview Ave.) which she opened 10 years ago, because she believes the area continues to have great business potential and local customers have shown her great support over the years.


“The loyalty from customers and regulars here is amazing once you know how to conserve them. In ten years I haven’t even had to spend a single dime on advertising, everything is word-of-mouth here,” Wei said.


Rosie’s Kitchen (1549 Bayview Ave.) owner Frank Kim says seven years after opening his restaurant the slightly older demographic and popularity of the area with shoppers has been a great combination.


“There’s a lot of foot traffic and most of my clients are a bit older. It’s a good place for business,” Kim said.


At neighbourhood favourite McSorley’s Saloon and Grill (1544 Bayview Ave.), co-owner Simon Hanlon prides himself on being a central part of the local community. Since opening in 1991, the bar has regularly sponsored local sports teams, been involved with local fundraisers and was even voted as Toronto’s top family restaurant by Toronto Life.


Hanlon feels that what keeps the neighbourhood humming is the same thing that drew him to it in the first place: The charm of a small-town community that hasn’t changed too much despite its success.


“It’s a great little shopping village with a small-town atmosphere that’s safe and nice. The houses are spectacular here and some of the streets are just gorgeous. There are some high end stores that weren’t here 19 years ago but it’s also very family oriented with a lot of good schools,” Hanlon said.