WARMINGTON: St. Lawrence Market vendor’s business survives pandemic but still battling City Hall

Jenny Huang, owner of The Souvenir Market, is being evicted after 18 years

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For 15-months, St. Lawrence Market shopkeeper Jenny Huang has been fighting the pandemic.

But it’s her battle with City Hall that may prove more lethal for the owner of The Souvenir Market.

The COVID-19 crisis has been unrelenting. And regarding her eviction, the city has been proving to be unbending. But there was some small movement Thursday.

“We are working to extend an additional period of time to Ms. Huang in order to afford her a reasonable amount of time to gather her business affairs in advance of vacating the space,” said Toronto spokesperson Talha Wasti.

But they are not budging on kicking her out.

“The Souvenir Market’s original lease expired at the end of December 2019. Upon expiry of the lease, the tenant was offered an option to extend and continued to occupy the unit on a month-to-month basis, without options for lease extension or renewal, and subject to termination with one month’s notice,” said Wasti. “As well, a review of the vendor mix at the St. Lawrence Market showed an over representation of vendors in the souvenir/gift category.”

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So after 18 years, she’s being cancelled.

But high-profile criminal lawyer Calvin Barry is hoping to change that.

Defence lawyer Calvin Barry speaks to the media after his clients, Victoria and Jason Small, admitted their guilt in a Newmarket court in an animal abuse case. (Stan Behal/Toronto Sun)
Defence lawyer Calvin Barry speaks to the media after his clients, Victoria and Jason Small, admitted their guilt in a Newmarket court in an animal abuse case. (Stan Behal/Toronto Sun)

“I have bought many gifts there,” he said. “She is terrific.”

Barry, taking on the case pro bono, said his team will “seek legal redress for the city of Toronto’s attempted eviction of our client and longstanding tenant at St. Lawrence Market.”

“We will be contacting the Toronto legal department to seek a resolution to the unfair treatment of our client,” he said. “We are hoping the city will reconsider their position once we advance our legal arguments.”

Both Toronto Centre Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, Ward 13, and Mayor John Tory also reached out. In Wong-Tam’s case there was a whisper in her ear that Huang had rent “default” notifications in the past — something the city later told the Sun was incorrect.

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Said Wasti: “There were no ‘rental arrears’ and rent had “no bearing on the business decision being made not to renew her agreement.”

  1. Jenny Huang, owner of The Souvenir Market, is pictured outside of St. Lawrence Market on June 23, 2021.

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  2. Dan Kelly, president and CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

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  3. File photo of bar patrons enjoying some beers with bartender Tonya MacWilliams at the Fill Station Sports Bar in Toronto on Aug. 1, 2020.

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Since Huang also said she has felt “bullied” and experienced alleged intolerance, I felt it necessary to report this to Mayor John Tory and Wong-Tam to be properly looked into.

Tory said that is exactly what will happen.

“In the wake of your column I asked city staff, whose job it is to manage the market responsibly on behalf of all taxpayers, to provide me with an explanation of what happened here,” said Tory.

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Wong-Tam said she was told the St. Lawrence Market has already rented her space to a new tenant who is set to take position of the 200-sq.-ft. space July 10 while after 18 years Huang is kicked to the curb.

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Barry said he will seek clarity on the extension and review what role the pandemic played in her not getting a normal five-year lease with a five-year option and instead a treacherous month-to-month lease that no business can exist under.

Huang said once the lockdowns started, she could not connect with St. Lawrence Market officials to sign a contract and was instead left vulnerable with no long-term commitment.

If only the city was as stubborn and determined on riding Toronto of drug dealers. What’s happening to Huang seems cruel. It would be better to leave Huang and her Canadiana shop alone — something the venerable, hard-working woman who immigrated from China in 1992 to live the Canadian dream is fighting for.

But her opponents are mighty and seemingly heartless.

jwarmington@postmedia.com

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