WARMINGTON: College St. resembles zombie apocalypse movie set

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If you were scouting neighbourhoods for a zombie movie, College St. might be the perfect location.

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It’s a ghost town these days.

And getting worse.

“The rents are just so expensive here,” said Tony Souphanthong, who runs popular Manic Coffee at College and Bathurst Sts.

It’s not easy to run any kind of street-front business during normal times.

“But when you have lockdown after lockdown, it’s almost impossible,” said Tony.

In business for 14 years, he is hanging on, and with a modified menu, shorter hours, and reduced staffing levels, Tony’s still able to try to survive. But the same can’t be said for the legendary Mars Food greasy spoon that had been famous in this neighbourhood for 75 years.

Not any more. It’s now closed with a bailiff’s notice on the door.

So before Christmas, Mars went out of business. It must have been in a hurry because you can still see a menu placard highlighting specials inside the front door and cans of drinks on the counter.

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As illustrated in a chilling series of tweets by a neighbour, who goes under the handle of Frank Grimes Jr., it’s the same kind of thing that’s happening at dozens of other College St. locations — both east and west of Bathurst. It’s concerning.

“Developers are buying up buildings and charging rents that are unsustainable,” said a local resident named Brian. “Things are changing.”

The pandemic is also changing independent retail and small family restaurants and bars in a profound way across the city.

“You can just order anything online now,” said Brian.

One doesn’t need to worry about social distancing or catching COVID-19.

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However, Toronto will become a quiet, boring city if you take away the street life and replace it with boarded-up storefronts everywhere. This is happening.

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The question is how to prevent the problem from becoming worse.

Tony does it by making sure his fare is of as high quality as he can make it. He doesn’t want his regular customers to see any dip in quality.

He still gets a small but steady stream of customers still coming in. But, Tony added, more help will be necessary.

“We are going to need more grants,” he said. “People can’t get by with hardly any customers. It’s impossible to sell enough product to cover the enormous expenses.”

The Ontario government’s $10,000 one-time cash payment will help a little, but not in the long term.

“Most people’s rent is $10,000, so it will help for one month,” said Tony. “It’s going to take more.”

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The best thing might be to end the lockdown approach once and for all.

Instead, just encourage those who may have tested positive or who appear to be ill, to stay home until they are better. We should operate with a view of learning to live with and manage this virus and its variants.

If the big-box stores are allowed to have dozens of customers at once, some thoughtful accommodation should be made for the mom-and-pop enterprises, as well.

Or we can just stand by and let more and more businesses die and reserve the streets for filmmakers making apocalypse movies.

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