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With Loblaws a Possibility, Kensington Market Gets Anxious

No stranger to development strife, Kensington is getting riled up over a new neighbour's plans.

It’s an awkward situation. In October, city council, with the support of Councillor Adam Vaughan (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina), approved a 15-storey condo at 297 College Street, to be developed by a company called Tribute Communities. Now, months after the fact, some residents and businesspeople in Kensington Market, just south of the site, are suddenly up in arms over the building, which they believe will include a neighbourhood-destroying element: a Loblaws supermarket, lodged in a planned 20,000 square foot second-floor retail space.

Sylvia Lassam, a seven-year Kensington resident who owns a home on Bellevue Avenue, is one of the people leading the fight against Loblaws. She believes that a supermarket would steal business away from the many green grocers and dry-goods merchants that line Kensington’s streets. “The raw food sales have been the constant that keeps it a real, honest-to-god market,” she said. “And if you get a Loblaws two blocks away, what’s going to happen?”

Lassam, an archivist by profession, believes that a supermarket would leave Kensington unrecognizable, erasing its century of history as a scrappy, eclectic immigrant district. There’s some reason to believe things could unfold this way. Ever since a Loblaws opened at Queen and Portland streets, about half a kilometre from the Market, neighbourhood merchants have complained of reduced sales. Fueling suspicion in Kensington is the fact that the Portland Street Loblaws is located in a condo building developed by none other than Tribute Communities, in partnership with RioCan.

“I just can’t see how that could be good for [Kensington's small grocers],” Lassam continued. “And I think what would probably happen is that they would eventually close up, and that those storefronts would turn into more of the entertainment kind of things.” In other words, bars.

Nothing incites fear in a neighbourhood quite like the prospect of rowdy drunks desecrating its heritage, and so naturally the anti-Loblaws movement has been becoming quite a thing. A group called Friends of Kensington Market has already staged two street protests, both specifically against Loblaws.

But despite the urgent tone of the protests, even neighbourhood advocates like Lassam acknowledge that there’s no hard evidence that Loblaws wants to put a store at 297 College.

That’s right: Loblaws is no sure thing, though one gets the sense that Tribute would be perfectly happy to have the blue-chip grocer as a tenant. “We don’t have a signed lease with Loblaws, but we have been talking with Loblaws,” said Steve Deveaux, Tribute’s vice president of land development. “We’ve been talking with a number of other retailers as well.”

Apart from all that, another thing that could potentially give pause to protestors is the fact that there likely isn’t any legal way for anyone to prevent the condo from being built. Tribute went through community consultation and won zoning approval from the City. The whole process was apparently fair and transparent. Neighbourhood residents could have raised objections in 2011, and yet it wasn’t until earlier this year that Lassam and Martin Zimmerman—proprietor of Freshmart, a small grocery store in Kensington that happens to buy its goods from Loblaws—tried to challenge Tribute at the Ontario Municipal Board. Their case was weak, and they dropped it last week after the developer agreed to meet with a group of residents.

“We are absolutely stunned that this flew below the radar,” said Venetia Butler, chairperson of the Kensington Market Action Committee. “We realize that the horse has left the barn, we totally realize that.” KMAC’s attentions, she added, were focused elsewhere, on a proposal for a RioCan shopping centre on Bathurst Street, which recently had a major setback.

Even so, she believes the protest movement—with which she is deeply involved—can be effective. “Now is the ideal time to put the heat on, because presumably the landowners will have some choice in who they rent to,” she said.

Deveaux, the Tribute vice president, has been paying attention to the outcry, but he doesn’t believe in the doomsday scenario. “People are entitled to their opinion and it sounds like there would be concern over [a supermarket] going in,” he said. “There are lots of examples of chain retailers going into an area while traditional independent retailers continue to thrive. St. Lawrence Market is one example.” It’s true: there’s a Metro supermarket across the street, and yet people still flock to St. Lawrence for fresh food and old-world charm.

Deveaux couldn’t say when Tribute might be ready to reveal the identity of 297 College’s second-floor retail tenant. He expects the building to be completed, at earliest, in 2015.


  • HotDang

    I think it would be cool if the second floor tenant was Joe Fresh. They sell such great duds.

  • Testu

    “Nothing incites fear in a neighbourhood quite like the prospect of rowdy drunks
    desecrating its heritage, and so naturally the anti-Loblaws movement has
    been becoming quite a thing”

    Rowdy drunks? In Kensington Market? Surely you jest.

    There have been rowdy drunks and all manner of social undesirables in Kensington market for decades. They provide a significant amount of the neighbourhood’s character.

  • asdf

    As a long time resident, I am not worried. Everything evolves. Change has shaped the Market into what you see today. The only thing that would kill Kensington is if it remains stagnant.

    • Bob Loblaw

      Coming to the Market since the 60′s and a resident for the past fifteen years, I cannot agree with you more. The only constant in Kensington is change. May it always be so. It will survive Loblaws.

    • walker a.

      Not stagnating and structural change are not the same thing. Are you certain that the market has experienced pressures anchored to geo-economic and neoliberal process before? Is it a matter of not having experienced a critical mass of surrounding upwardly mobile development that has allowed K. to continue servicing a diversity of residents and visitors for decades?

      Yorkville changed from a low-income community to one that no-longer supports a low-income presence (besides low-income service jobs). Is the Yorkville story one of success for the residents who used to be able to afford living there?

      If gentrification accelerates in K., such that low-income users are priced out, does that still meet your non-stagnation criteria?

  • Valerie

    So a Loblaws is a threat to the community, but the 15-story condo was fine? Where were these guys when ownership had to transfer from the buddhist centre? Rising rents and prices in the Market have been a threat way before this. Making Loblaws the villain again is a bit too convenient. If you’re going to take it upon yourself to “save” the character of a place that has sustained itself in its current form for more than 20 years, you’ve got to cover all the bases. asdf is right – only stagnation will kill Kensington. So if you have no problem with all these new condo-dwellers, you can school them in the culture when they get here. Best of luck.

    • Christopher Aaron Slade

      They dont care about saving the “market” They only care about Loblaws being “unfair Competition” to the “small guys” ……Such Loser talk!

  • Richard Dekeland Loblaws III

    Ah, hah hah hah! I think, my friends, you will soon find that the entire world is but an aisle of a Loblaws of galactic proportions! Ha ha! Join us! All are welcome at Loblaws! Ah hah hmm mhmm yes ha ha! Behold the majesty of Loblaws!

  • DryDry

    “She believes that a supermarket would steal business away from the many green grocers and dry-goods merchants that line Kensington’s streets”

    No. A thousand times no.

    A College St Loblaws would steal customers from the shitty Bloor Spadina Metro and the shitty College Shaw Metro.

    I buy my meat, fish and cheese in the market. That won’t change. The people who like buying cheap semi-shitty fruits and vegetables from the market will continue to do so. They won’t pay more for better produce from Loblaws.

    The only thing that will change in the market is the increased pedestrian traffic from the Loblaws shoppers who decide to make the market part of the trip to the grocery store.

    This woman has her head up her ass.

    • Christopher Aaron Slade

      This woman is crazy! Have you ever been to the Market when the sun goes down. ITS SCARY AS HELL. Ever try walking your dog through the park there? Have fun dodging the human shit (for real) and needles!

  • OgtheDim

    20 000 square feet is a little small for a Loblaws.

    I’m thinking an LCBO would be a better fit.

    • DryDry

      There’s already an LCBO on Spadina 3 blocks to the south and another LCBO on College 5 blocks to the west

      • Neville Ross

        But a LCBO fits into the character of the Market better than a Loblaws would. Actually, the Silver Snail would fit better into the Kensington Market better than a Loblaws would, but unfortunately, the move wouldn’t be possible now, and the Silver Snail probably wouldn’t be able to afford that space anyway.

        But there are other types of independent business that could afford that space, like a specialty bookstore, a supermarket, a record/CD/DVD store similar to Sonic Boom and HMV, a computer store, and so on. There’s no need for yet another Loblaws when two Metros and a Loblaws are in the vicinity. The protesters are right; let the people who need this use their legs and shopping carts and let them go to the chain stores by public transit and foot if they need ‘normal’ amenities that badly.

        • DryDry

          An LCBO is literally across the street from the market. Are you suggesting they close it up and open a new one IN the market….why, exactly?

          • Neville Ross

            Then, SOMETHING ELSE can be opened up in that space instead of yet another corporate chain like Loblaws, as I’ve said before. Also, to answer your argument, there’s a Metro and Loblaws within a few meters travel near Kensington Market, by foot or by streetcar.

  • Eric S. Smith

    “…Zimmerman—proprietor of Freshmart…tried to challenge Tribute…”

    Previously on Kensington Market Drama: “Freshmart is all wrong for the Market and will ruin everything!”

    • tyrannosaurus_rek

      Freshmart you ho this is all your fault!

  • JBass

    A No Frills would be a welcome addition to the neighborhood for the low prices on basics. The reality is that living in the Market is fairly expensive, with a few deals here and there. If you want super cheap fruit and vegetables one just crosses Spadina and shops in Chinatown. Thats not going to change any time soon, Loblaws or no Loblaws.

    • DryDry

      A No Frills would be far more in competition with the foodmongers of the market than a Loblaws
      No Frills is owned by Loblaws
      Chinatown mediocre produce vendors and K Market mediocre produce vendors have survived side by side for decades

  • tomwest

    If they are afraid people will choose Loblaws over locoal shops, doesn’t that mean they think Loblaws is better? (And that by trying to block Loblaws, they preventing people from choosing what the think is the better option!)

    • Christopher Aaron Slade

      Your so right with this Tomwest!

  • Lavender

    I think some commenting here are missing the point. Yes, communities inevitably change. But does this mean we should support every development proposal? It’s not ‘change vs. stagnation’; it’s ‘what kind of change is healthy’? Remember that although there was public consultation, the project itself wasn’t something the communities affected asked for. They respond, make suggestions, but ultimately they don’t get the final say. Let’s get to the heart of the matter: to suggest that a nearby supermarket might siphon away business from local food purveyors isn’t completely insane. Maybe the concerns are unfounded. But if you think the protesters are pulling the ol’ NIMBY tactic, then at least qualify why you think that is. Are there instances where similar development projects were opposed but ended up benefiting the community or at least were not as damaging as anticipated? Is this scenario comparable to St. Lawrence Market and Metro? The moral of the story is that knee-jerk reactions to knee-jerk reactions aren’t helpful.

  • TyroneMandelbaum

    Kennsington market is no longer an immigrant neighbourhood and is becoming gentrified. If you want to escape “big grocery” you need to go to an immigrant neighbourhood because they are the only people left who tend to go to different specialties stores instead of one mega store. I live in an area with a large Ethiopian population and it awesome because all of the small businesses have started selling Ethiopian ingredients and have probably seen a large increase in business.

  • EsperOni

    Sounds like another case of nimby

    • walker a

      You mean gentrifiers not wanting poverty in their (future) backyard?

      • EsperOni

        No, if I wanted to sound like a pompous ass, then I could probably have done it without any help from you.

        Change comes, it happens, sometimes it sucks, but bitching and moaning about it will not help. Don’t like it, then fight it or move. Don’t waste your time making posts that don’t mean anything.

        It seems to me, that it’s a classic case of not in my backyard.

    • Neville Ross

      Sounds like another case of dumb stupid ignorant moronic neocon opening their mouth to talk bullshit.

      • EsperOni

        Haha, I’m not a Neocon (Do you even know what that means?). I don’t know how people can classify you politically by one or two sentences. I’m a lot more complex than that.

        Wow! Your post has a really angry tone….:)

        You should relax. Learn to take life as it comes. Laugh more, it’ll help. Neocon? Really? okay.

        • Neville Ross

          Sorry, but when you use insults like NIMBY without considering the situation or the point of the people in the community protesting, you’re acting like a neocon, and speaking from the neocon playbook as well.

          First off, NIMBY refers to people not wanting something in their backyard like a group home for the mentally ill, elderly homeless, or social housing, that privileged people like you have co-opted and twisted to mean what it never used to mean before. People like you not wanting those things in your tony suburban neighborhoods is NIMBY, not what’s going on here in Kensington Market. The Market’s a unique place recognized worldwide (and also a tourist destination, I’ll bet)-having a Loblaws in it would wreck it and make it no more special than anywhere else that has a chain market. That’s why people are protesting.

          As for taking it easy-you’re just another person, like many these days, who won’t stand for anything and believe in nothing, most likely.

          • EsperOni

            Nice try. Again, you seem to pull magical facts out of the air as to what I believe and what causes, if any, I choose to champion. Loblaws isn’t any different from any other “capitalist” venture appearing almost anywhere on the planet.

            I live downtown, but I’m not even sure what a tony suburban neighborhood is anyways. NIMBY (read below) has a few nuanced meanings depending on the circumstances of use. I didn’t post to get into a class argument, or one about English either.

            “NIMBY [ˈnɪmbɪ]

            n acronym for

            not in my back yard: a person who objects to the occurrence of something if it will affect them or take place in their locality

            Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003″

            Yourself, for example? You can’t even articulate why you don’t want a Loblaws in KM. “…having a Loblaws in it would wreck it and make no more special than anywhere else that has a chain market.” Yeah, that’s called nimby-ism. What is it going to wreck? The Feng-Shui of the market? Property values going to decrease significantly? Crime will rise? Kensington has always had a wonderful reputation as a great place to live and raise a family, I don’t expect a Loblaws on College to change that.

  • walker a

    I don’t think changes to consumer choice is the issue that threatens the viability of ‘Kensington’ and the adjacent low/mid-income neighbourhoods. Like some comments accurately point out, change is necessary for ‘growth’ and health. However, there is plenty of evidence now from cities around the world that (gentrified) big-box impacts structural aspects of neighbourhood livability; and the social, economic and spatial dislocation produced by a concentration of large consumer footprint retail does not produce healthy neighbourhoods or cities.

    Loblaws will up the comfort level for a broader demographic to visit and stay in the area, those who, for instance, would might otherwise find Kensington produce/people shoddy. An influx of middle-class (values) will drive real estate prices, making it more difficult for low income owners/renters to survive. It’s already happening from the higher-end residential development from Queen & King W, College/Annex, etc.

    More demand/less supply in the core does not wholly account for a home appreciating $450K to $650K in 4 years… not everyone can afford sudden and dramatic increases in property taxes. The city, desperate for revenue, having allowed privatization to drain its revenue channels, allows development to be catered to upwardly mobile middle-class consumers, the ‘best’ ROI on real estate.

    Loblaws will simply be an another structural pressure to accelerate retail and residential price appreciation in the area, which eventually requires higher-end retail to sustain the higher rents. Retail options slowly dwindle for low-income residents.

    While the poverty inducing effects from gentrified big-box will not show up here in the long run, because those most affected will be forced to leave, it will burden other low income communities further afield. There are already countless neighbourhoods where this process has rolled out. So should we just assume that the only relevant conversation regarding Loblaws moving in is a consumer issue: like aesthetic impact, consumer choice and corporate rights?

    Should city livability only be defined from a middle-class perspective? As long as they are being ‘adequately’ serviced, the city is made livable? As long as the shootings only occur in east Scarborough, or impoverished areas in the US?

    The global economic crisis that just ‘passed’ is the culmination of local decisions that turn on who is included and who is excluded when a city, region, or nation define what success should look like. Not closing tax loopholes, that allow multinationals (like Loblaws) to avoid taxation on billions in profits, has been one form of success we’ve collectively chosen to accept, albeit with dire consequences. How many more times will planners, developers and citizens allow the gentrifying (dislocation) effects of *some* developments to define livability, while repeatedly ignoring evidence of how poverty forms and expands?

  • Eric S. Smith

    Huh, looks like those cheerful protest signs are the work of Twitter-stalking creep Greg A. Elliott.

  • kensington student

    I’m a Market resident myself and I can honestly say that Kensington is craving a Loblaws or other big food store. Firstly, this building won’t technically be in the Market, but on College street… I don’t see how it would ruin the cute and eccentric charm of Augsuta, Baldwin, and other such streets in the market. There’s a Rexall Pharmacy being built right at College and Spadina itself, only a few blocks east of where the proposed grocery store is. So I truly don’t think it will affect the appearance. Secondly, and most importantly, I have absolutely nowhere to do my groceries as a student. Freshmart is so overpriced that I shudder to go there (Bay leaves, pepper, and tomato paste cost me $11! $11!!!). I think a big grocery store would be a benefit to the surrounding community who can’t do their shopping elsewhere. I will always buy fresh fruits at the grocers, still will go to the butcher and baker for my meat and bread, but if Kensington wants to say “No Loblaws No” it seriously needs to step up the sad excuse for a grocery store that they have now — 4 aisles, limited selection, and incredibly overpriced.

    • LL

      I feel for you – my student days were pretty tight too. But Loblaws won’t help your budget – everything there is incredibly overpriced.

      You need to explore the market more! At Tutti Frutti I can fill up my spice jars for .25 – .50 cents for most spices. Between Tutti Frutti, The Green Post and Essence of Life I can buy all of my detergents, house cleaning products and body care products for less than they cost at No Frills or Walmart. And they are all eco-friendly to boot! Check out all of the little stores in Kensington. The majority of my
      groceries cost less in the market than at Bulk Barn or any chain grocery store.