COVID19 Small Business Journal: Empty Chinatowns
In Toronto, we have two Chinatowns. The main Chinatown at Spadina and Dundas is the larger, more well-known one (although it was moved from its original location downtown to build City Hall). It’s busier, flashier, has the hanging signs with the Chinese characters, more restaurants, more of the traditional Chinatown institutions, and it’s also close to the Art Gallery of Ontario and Kensington Garden and downtown Queen Street West.
I guess in part because back when we were in Leslieville, we were quite close to East Chinatown, and we often walked there for fresh products or plants or Chinese take out or pho or ice cream, East Chinatown is a special neighbourhood for me. They also have the excellent Riverdale Library branch, and are close to Riverdale Park. It’s gentrifying now: a large fire on the corner of Broadview and Gerrard has resulted in an A&W across from the Scotiabank. Rising commercial real estate prices have brought new, younger businesses, and they’ve really changed the tenor of the streets, the voices and words you hear when you’re walking.
We’re actually still quite close by now, just over the bridge, but with Caleb in school during the day, and both shops running, it seems like we have less time for walking trips than we used to have. Perhaps something we will try and change once things get back to however they’re going to get.
These most recent pandemic days have been busy, and the other day on the way home from the main shop, the kids fell asleep in the car, so we went to pick up some Chinese BBQ for dinner.
It’s disheartening to think about types of businesses that might not make it to the other side of this, and of course I feel a pang for the Chinatowns. Latent racism early on in this “Chinese virus” aside, many of the Chinatown shops on Gerrard or Broadview are businesses that don’t have a large social media presence, or a social media presence at all, places that conduct business mostly in another language, or depend entirely on foot traffic—who knows how these family run shops are going to fare. Generational shops that will shutter, and then maybe not open back up.
It’s only natural, a part of a changing and growing city, for neighbourhoods to change and reflect the people who live in them, and I hate to rail against change for change’s sake. But it’s a shame to think about the businesses we’ll lose as a result of this pandemic, Chinese bakeries or BBQ shops, those general goods shops where you can buy good luck cats and new years’ envelopes, city streets that we won’t get back in the same way as before.
Currently reading: Dreams from my Father by Barack Obama
Currently reading with Caleb: James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
Current home school unit: telling time
Currently grateful for: an early morning to hang laundry up on a line outside, drying while we’re at the main shop—and the sunshine
Currently smelling: very, very strong dog breath waiting the crumbs of lunch
Latest life-changing moment: adjusting the straps on my leather Birkenstocks, which have stretched out over the years
Latest heard in the warehouse:
Jon: “These 12 x 9 x 2 boxes are amazing! I’m really excited to order more.”