Contributed by Anita Bostok. As Cabbagetown residents, we know full well the advantages of downtown living. We walk down the street, and everything we need is at our fingertips. But we can’t take it for granted that this will always be the case. Since the pandemic, merchants have endured repeated, forced lockdowns. Now they’re faced with ongoing, debilitating construction that makes it difficult for customers to visit their stores. Local businesses are reporting revenue declines of up to seventy percent.
What Can I Do?
Facing challenges in her own business, Regina Sheung, owner of Labour of Love, asked herself “what can I contribute to the city to make this better?”
“The pandemic is not to blame for all the city’s problems, but rather the chaos from the pandemic exposed cracks in the system. The city is choked by construction, poverty, and crime. Drug addiction and homelessness are rampant. It’s overwhelming.”
Sheung believes that Toronto can regain its vibrancy but will take about four years to reset. For this to happen, she says we all must start “thinking outside the box.”
Inspire and Contribute to the Spirit of Cabbagetown
Shifting the philosophy of her business to better connect with the community, Sheung introduced new concepts to Labour of Love, turning it into an experiential residence. The store now hosts art exhibitions, cooking demonstrations, wellness days, book signings, and talks by guest speakers. It offers locally and sustainably sourced products. Sheung feels that she and her team are more grounded and in tune with the community. “We’re doing our part to try to inspire and contribute to the spirit of Cabbagetown.”
Having realigned her shop to better connect with the neighbourhood’s vibe, Sheung turned her focus to what the city can do to serve its residents and businesses better. Finding a lack of transparency and accountability from city leaders, she created a petition on Change.Org. The post received a lot of attention from concerned residents, and each signature sent a direct message to the office of Mayor John Tory. In the petition, Sheung demanded the city divert more resources to infrastructure changes and reduce the timelines for their completion by 50%. She asked the city to give financial support to impacted businesses and urged city leaders to commit to meeting with local business owners.
In the past few weeks, there have been some changes. Although they will reappear in the spring, the fences along Parliament St are down for now. Increased parking along the street has improved shopping. Communication with the city has begun. Newly elected MP Chris Moise promises more transparency surrounding construction activities with mail-outs, signage, and regular meetings with businesses and resident associations. Sheung is encouraged by these developments, and hopes they are not empty promises.
What We Can All Do
The struggle for these shops is far from over. They must weather the storm so that our community which relies on them, will continue to have these services. If shops don’t survive, the complexion of the neighbourhood changes. It’s more important than ever to support our businesses. With the holidays upon us, let’s do our part as Cabbagetown residents. Reach out to Chris Moise, drop-in to the BIA, and most important, shop locally.