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.”
Thank you so much for reading, and for your thoughtful and kind words. This is really a time of a lot of inward reflection as well as looking at what’s important and what we really need. Hope you are staying safe and well.
Dave Astels said:
I didn’t know about East Chinatown, though I’ve been to/through the main Chinatown a few times when we’ve visited the AGO. Will have to check it out once things have reached some normality. Or at least once we’re willing/able to take the train to TO again.
The main Chinatown is definitely busier and has more to see, plus of course the AGO and it’s so close to the subway. East Chinatown has its own vibe, though, and Riverdale Park is a great place to have a picnic afterwards with some Chinese BBQ or ice cream!
Oh my goodness, what a great family tradition. Things you can only get in a big city like Toronto. The nostalgia is strong!
When I lived on the east side, dim sum on Gerrard on Sunday mornings was the highlight of the week for my daughter and me. Also the BBQ pork at Sing Sing. So I’m feeling your nostalgia.
Very nostalgic read, thought provoking, poignant, yet with a whimsical end note…
I was listening a talk by Eckhart Tolle today about the pandemic…. In a nutshell he said that adversity is part of being human….If we go deep within and find the eternal calm, we can face anything…..
Easier said than done :)
John Trebych said:
What 12×9×2 boxes does Jon think are amazing?