There’s no more patently ludicrous marker of Toronto’s gentrification, and of gentrification as a whole model of civic transformation, than the mock graffiti dressing up the Loblaws on Queen St. West, near Bathurst.
It just says “LOBLAWS.” Over and over. In different ripped-off street art fonts. And it’s indoors!
It’s like a cartoon of an out-of-touch corporation pitiably trying to connect with the roots of a neighbourhood it’s papering over. It’s Homer Simpson strutting through Lollapalooza in an oversized Rastafarian hat: desperate, embarrassing, totally oblivious. It’s an easy target.
Last week, Tribute Communities announced it has sealed a deal with Loblaws to develop a 20,000 square foot supermarket in another of Toronto’s most contested neighbourhoods: Kensington Market.
Slated to take over 297 College St. — in a space formerly housing, no joke, a Zen Buddhist temple — the new Loblaws is being regarded in some quarters as both a material and existential threat to the vibrancy and uniqueness of Kensington.
It remains to be seen how exactly Loblaws and Tribute will pay phony homage to the neighbourhood they’re encroaching upon — a graffiti-scrawled Jane Jacobs quote or a 40-foot hollow Buddha filled with cheese? — but the people behind the new deal are already adopting the language of Kensington’s culture.
Speaking to Toronto Life, Tribute VP of land development Steve Deveaux stressed that the Loblaws will be “more of a community grocery store,” insisting that the Kensington we know will still be “relevant.”
Over the past year, Kensington has become a battleground, a site of contestation. As Loblawsian corporate interests further come to define Toronto, many have taken up the cause of protecting heritage communities against the corporatized steamrolling that defines, oh, pretty much everything.
Per a petition endorsed by 7,300-plus “Friends of Kensington Market” that has circulated online since Loblaws first began eyeing the Kensington-adjacent space, the clash is between Big Corporations and “the small independent stores, especially purveyors of raw food — fruit stands, dry goods, fishmongers, butcher and groceries,” those that “may not withstand the impact of a Loblaws moving into the community.”
In a way this battle has already been lost. Friends of Kensington Market are determined to preserve a spirit that’s already receded.
Kensington’s uniqueness has already been co-opted in less obvious ways. It was 2009 when Max and Son Meat Market, a tiny family-owned butcher on Baldwin St., was bought out by Peter Sanagan, laying the tracks for a much bigger, 5,000 square foot space hawking organic heirloom pheasants and artisanal pepperettes.
And if that didn’t seal Kensington’s fate as a sort of d
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