The recently-formed Gerrard East Community Organization (GECO) recently invited local residents to discover the businesses in their neighbourhood on a community walk. Organizer Belynda Blyth said the walk was so successful that the group only managed to make it halfway along one side of the street.
“It was fantastic. Everybody that was involved really had a good time. We started sharing our favourites in each of the stores,” she said.
Additional walks will be planned for the future, to cover the rest of the street. Councillors Mary-Margaret McMahon and Paula Fletcher, who share coverage on Gerrard, which is split north/south between their wards, also attended the walk.
Blyth said there have been at least a few businesses she hadn’t previously visited, due to limited curb appeal. She was pleasantly surprised by some, which turned out to be well-organized and immaculately clean inside.
“I’ve lived in the neighbourhood for 20 years and I just discovered some places I didn’t know,” she said.
The goal of GECO is to bring the businesses and residents of the Gerrard India Bazaar area together, to help build up the neighbourhood.
“GECO is residents wanting to merge with the businesses and make it work,” said Blyth. “I don’t know that revitalization is the right word for it, because everybody here loves what’s already happening, but there are many vacant stores that have been vacant for a long time.”
The group is hoping to launch a project which would see vacant storefronts boarded over, covered with paintings of potential businesses the neighbourhood would like to see in those buildings. A similar project in Seattle resulted in new businesses setting up shop in the beautified vacant storefronts. Some businesses Blyth mentions as examples include a butcher or maybe a cheese shop. A new toy store will be opening soon just west of Coxwell, and an art gallery is opening at Woodfield and Gerrard, but there are still many vacant spots.
Despite many South Asian-focused businesses moving to the suburbs, Blyth makes it clear that GECO would love to see the India Bazaar remain, as they are a large part of what makes the street work well despite the challenges.
“We want to work together with the businesses. We’re trying to share our vision, so that everybody understands what’s happening, and it’s not a gentrification,” she said. “We want to celebrate what is there.”
Another walk will be held on March 22, beginning at 6 p.m., this time starting at Bombay Chowpatty restaurant at Gerrard and Woodfield.