The new Starbucks, at 3077 Dundas Street West, has been open for a week. Photo by Christopher Drost/Torontoist.
It’s basic physics: if a gritty neighbourhood grows cool enough and wealthy enough, Starbucks will result. Until last week, the Junction was the exception that proved the rule. Now, it just proves the rule.
The Junction’s first Starbucks opened last week in a renovated former hardware store at 3077 Dundas Street West. The storefront is in the middle of the neighbourhood’s main retail strip, consisting of new businesses providing things like raw food meals and performance weight training, but interspersed with holdovers from a dowdier generation of places like appliance stores and nail salons.
Over the course of the past year, residents have watched as 3077 Dundas Street West’s owners restored its formerly rickety exterior, cladding it with new brick and even adding a third storey with its own balcony. Rumours that a certain international coffee chain was interested in the building’s ground-floor retail space began circulating early last summer, but it wasn’t until the City granted Starbucks a sign permit in mid-August that it became abundantly clear that the deal was done.
Martin Lennox, chair of the Junction Residents Association, is taking the chain’s arrival in his neighbourhood of seven years with ambivalence. “I’m mixed,” he says. “I think there’s enough independent consumers in the area that independent shops will still be supported.”
The Residents Association considered taking action against Starbucks, but their executive board was divided over the issue. “We decided not to support [opposition to Starbucks] unless we got a vote of support at one of our members meetings,” says Lennox. Contrast this with the furor that broke out in Kensington Market two years ago over the mere suggestion of a Starbucks opening.
“The community seems pretty evenly split,” Lennox adds. “We’ve even done some online surveys and they’ve come out pretty even.”
“I think people just like Starbucks. It’s a big corporation for a reason.”
On the corner opposite to the new Starbucks is Crema Coffee, a locally owned café that opened in the Junction in 2008. On Tuesday afternoon its airy, moderately sized interior was nearly at capacity.
“We don’t foresee any drop in sales,” says Geoff Polci, owner of Crema. “We actually are projecting an increase in sales, simply because of the fact that the Starbucks is going to bring more people to the area.”
In conversation with coffee people, one gets the impression that this is conventional wisdom in the trade: a shop with a quality product and neighbourhood cred can thrive on competition with Starbucks.
“Long-term I think it’s a good thing for the neighbourhood,” continues Polci. “Am I crazy about having it right across the street? Maybe not so much.”
In addition to foot traffic, Starbucks has the ability to draw more investment to the Junction, but that would have a downside.
“This type of of development can be a type of base and springboard for other types of development,” says Lennox, the Junction Residents Association Chair. “That tends to drive up rent.”
But Starbucks is more than a barometer of neighbourhood prosperity; it’s also a place to get coffee. The Junction location is very nice inside and absolutely worth a visit, if only for curiosity’s sake. All the interior decoration seems to have been executed with the intention of making the space seem worn-in and aged. There are distressed bits of vintage molding nailed to the wall behind and above the counter; there are couches and chairs arranged around an intentionally rough-hewn coffee table in the back the shop, next to a faux-fireplace that emits real heat. The floors are made of slats of a woodgrained material that actually, on closer inspection, appears to be some sort of composite. On top of the fireplace mantle is a wooden sign that says: “THE JUNCTION.”
It’s like a 1:1 scale replica of an established hangout in a transitioning neighbourhood. And soon, in all likelihood, it’ll be the real thing.