Nominated for: prioritizing convenience over character.
Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains—the very best and very worst people, places, things, and ideas that have had an influence on the city over the past twelve months. From December 12–23, the candidates for Mightiest and Meanest—and new this year, a reader’s write-in option! From December 26–29 you’ll be able to vote for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year, and we’ll reveal the results December 30.
On December 6, less than a week after the opening of a deluxe and much-anticipated Loblaws supermarket drew crowds of hundreds before 8 a.m., Globe and Mail columnist Adam Radwanski issued the following tweet: “Had a nearby meeting, so wandered into Maple Leaf Gardens for a look. Need to get out before my childhood memories are completely destroyed.” The impending destruction of Mr. Radwanski’s warm and fuzzies and the glitzy new grocery store were, perversely, one and the same, because Maple Leaf Gardens—the historic home of our local hockey franchise—had been abandoned, transformed anew into a vulgar den of pre-made sandwiches and photogenic produce. Men shed blood and sweat within those storied walls, but what would it matter now? President’s Choice makes excellent ice cream.
Downtowners have always had a love-hate relationship with chain stores, mitigating the impulse to call corporate bullshit when considerations of convenience come into play. And, sure, the Maple Leaf Gardens Loblaws is arguably filling a geographic grocery void. The same can also be said for the Loblaws that opened on Queen West just a week prior, and the Dollarama development that ousted Sonic Boom records—of the iconic window displays—from its longtime Bloor West digs earlier this fall. Surely, everyone can agree that Queen West’s charm is incomplete without a big-box grocery shopping solution, and who needs records with the convenient option to drop a loonie for China-made trinkets right in the Annex?
Have we lost our minds?
The problem with big-box stores isn’t the businesses themselves, necessarily, but their effect. While there is a precedent-setting factor—a corporate domino effect, if you will—it isn’t the mere presence of these behemonths that is the fundamental tragedy at the core of downtown’s chain store takeover. What matters is what we, as a city, are willing to give up for it.
We are sacrificing our character for convenience.
There will be those who say the big-box lament is a petty one. Cities change, gentrification happens, and businesses crop up and drop out all the time. People will argue, and argue convincingly, in favour of neon-lit commerce over the preservation of some idealized version of a city space’s character, because it makes sense to root for the tangible. Chain stores are an easy sell. What’s worrysome is how many of us are buying it.