Landlord disputes and increased rent are forcing a favourite Riverside haunt out of the community it helped build.
Well, it certainly lived up to its name. Ask the residents of Riverdale and Leslieville, and they’ll say The Avro is considered to be an example of the ideal small business in the neighbourhood—locally owned, supportive of other community projects and events, inviting, friendly, wholly invested in its customers and neighbours, and peddling a quality product as well. But yesterday, the bar’s Facebook page posted the headline “The Avro Project Cancelled Again,” swiftly and abruptly ending its successful nearly-three-year run as a community leader, meeting place, and drinking hole before its time.
Also like its namesake, the decision is sparking some outrage.
“Like the historic Avro airplane, we must give way to foreign imposition before our time,” the announcement reads.”Thank you to the countless people, friends, neighbours and local business owners we’ve met, and for all the support you have given throughout our three remarkable years. We hope the spirit The Avro endeavoured to cultivate will live on in the east, and that friendships made around our bar will continue to grow beyond our closing.”
There’s no word yet on what is slated to replace The Avro’s space on Queen East, but it likely won’t keep the bar’s signature plaid curtains, costumed mannequins, and chalkboard bathroom walls. So Leslieville and Riverside residents will have one last flight on The Avro on Friday, April 26.
The Avro’s owners, Rachel Conduit and Bruce Dawson, opened the bar in 2010, and by the establishment’s first birthday they had already inspired a wellspring of east end culture. Comedy nights, video-game marathons, live music, letter-writing clubs, community gardens, toboggan and bike rides, and the East End Icon calendar were all initiatives that brought sleepy Riversiders out of their homes and into the neighbourhood. Simply being open until 2 a.m. seven nights a week was revolutionary along Queen East.
But for the past two months, Dawson and Conduit have been involved in a battle with their landlord over a rent hike and noise restrictions. With their three-year lease at its end, Conduit told Torontoist that negotiations ended with The Avro’s landlord asking for a 120 per cent increase and a rule prohibiting music after 11 p.m. (Conduit and Dawson thought a 30 per cent increase would be fair). “They just wanted us out,” Conduit said.
While part of The Avro’s demise seems personal, it comes at a time when Riverside is experiencing one the biggest increases in commercial property-tax assessment values in all of Toronto. The Riverside BIA fears that some local businesses won’t survive. The Avro’s longtime neighbours, LPK’s Culinary Groove and Loic Gourmet, also shut down recently.
“Bruce and I are pretty at peace with it, it has obviously been a couple months of struggling and fighting for it. So through all that, we’re at a good place now and understand this is the way it has to be,” said Conduit, who also owns the bicycle-themed bar Handlebar, which just happens to be located in Kensington Market, another neighbourhood at risk of losing its independent businesses due to rent increases.
And because Conduit and Dawson are now okay with saying goodbye to The Avro, they’re finding themselves being the ones offering a kind shoulder to their customers upset by the news.
“It’s like, ‘Aww, it’s okay!’ ‘Thank you! You’re very sweet’ ‘You’ll find another place!’” Conduit said.
“I was pretty surprised, and very disappointed,” said Morgan McIver about The Avro’s closure. “Everyone knows what Rachel and Bruce do for Riverside and Leslieville. It’s not just a bar making noise. These two are spearheading the changes around this community and making it more of a community.”
McIver has lived directly above the bar for the past two years with her sister, and it was one of the first stops they made after moving to the neighbourhood. “We ended up having the best night ever and met a bunch of people in the area. Even though we haven’t really hung out with those people, it’s still another ‘hello’ on the street.” McIver even has Conduit’s cell phone number in case they need to quiet down, though she has only needed to use it once.
Dana Harrison, who also lives around the corner from The Avro, ran her blog Well-Preserved as a hobby when Conduit convinced her to host a monthly meet-up event at the bar. The popularity of their Home Ec series snowballed into a trend that has since received attention in the United States and Britain.
“She’s the one who helped us push it ahead, and the next thing I know we’ve done it 12 times in a row,” Harrison said. “The conversation always kind of turned to that type of thing when we were sitting around the bar, so it became more of an instigator of other community projects. She was just really inspiring to a lot of other people to get them off their butts and thinking about the whole neighbourhood as a whole, that we’re all a part of one thing.”
Harrison will be moving her events over to Handlebar after their final instalment at The Avro next month. She says she would have preferred to keep it in the neighbourhood, but there isn’t another space suitable for it. Conduit also says that her community activism will continue in Riverside even without a physical space, as a member of the Riverside BIA.
This post originally said that Riverside is experiencing the highest increase in property tax rates of any neighborhood in Toronto. In fact, the area is experiencing one of the highest rates of commercial property-tax assessment growth. Assessment growth helps the City adjust a property’s taxes, but it’s not the same thing as a tax increase.