By Kait Fowlie
Roncy’s getting a makeover! … a time consuming, life-disrupting, business thwarting makeover. Beginning in June 2009, Roncesvalles Avenue has been ripped apart, dug up, closed down, and patched up, changing the lives of everyone who hangs out on the street. Some businesses that have been around since before some of us were even born have been forced to close down as a result of the lack of traffic in the area. Boho, Buddha Dog, Silverspoon, Abstract Tree, and Mad Gypsy Vintage are a few that will be sadly missed, but many badass businesses are still thriving on the street regardless of the construction. They do need your help, though. Roncy is a street that is designed for leisure, with many adorable bars (Fat Cat Wine Bar if you take pride in your wine knowledge and dig affordable lobster, or the Local if you crave a foot stompin’ live band and inventive pub fare). The street also has some of the city’s best bookstores, (She Said Boom, A Good Read, and Another Story are all worth checking out) and Toronto’s only non profit community run movie theatre, The Revue, that’s always playing some indie gems.

So, what happened? Basically, what started as a bareboned TTC track replacement project on the street morphed into a host of design improvements, mostly centered around two priorities: a strong presence of versatile public space, and an expanded canopy of trees. The post-makeover Roncy is set to look like a leafy paradise for pedestrians and cyclists, but the state of affairs on the street right now is a heroic catastrophe of dirt and dust.

We love Roncy and need to know if the madness really necessary!
The water and sewer pipes were approaching 100 years old, and the streetcar tracks were set to expire within a few years. Demographically speaking, Roncy as a community is getting younger. Families with young kids have come to the hood – and made the neighbourhood better for it – but they require a younger infrastructure to match. Hence, the need for total street annihilation. The style of design unifies the ideas of local architects, urban planners, community reps and volunteers, so the plan is pretty democratic. Regardless, things aren’t 100 percent hunky dory in the hood right now. The project is a bittersweet local affair that has many Roncy residents up in arms and down on their luck.

As a Roncy restaurant employee, Mabel’s Bakery devotee, avid Revue Cinema freak, and Loons drunkard, I’ve devised a list of pro’s and con’s to the construction that is boldly taking the street by sandstorm.

1. The plan will wrench Roncy out of the traditional sidewalk tree planting scheme, where trees stuck in planters rarely live beyond 5 or 10 years. Instead, Roncy will be a “living sidewalk” built with soil cells that will allow roots to grow unrestricted.
2. Since the trees will grow bigger than average urban ones, they will provide shade, cool the street, and naturally absorb carbon dioxide and airborne pollutants. Not to mention they add major visual appeal. The back patio of Loons and The Local are already pretty leafy and have a natural vibe, but they would be even better with more trees.
3. Tree roots will be integrated into the sewer system, and will absorb water runoff, reducing the frequency of raw sewage creeping into the lake.
4. “Bumpouts” – the sidewalk extensions, will create a space for public art, gardens, street vendors, restaurant patio’s and general hangouts. One of the reasons we love the Sunset Grill is because of that quaint front patio (and phenomenal waffles) … we could see a lot more of those on the street.
5. The bumpouts will be extended onto the street at each streetcar stop, lining up with the entrances to streetcars to create a totally accessible system. Cyclists will also be able to ride onto them.
1. The whole tree idea is cost effective, efficient and natural, but it could take years for trees to grow big enough to provide substantial shade to the street.
2. The plan is geared toward cyclists, transit users and pedestrians – which is great, but what if you are one of the many young mothers in the area with a minivan full of kids / dogs / sports equipment? There will end up being one lane of traffic in each direction and about 9% fewer parking spots. For now (until January, when the construction is set to be finished) there is only one northbound lane of traffic.
3. The living sidewalk could cost up to 4 times as much as a regular one. (However, while the upfront cost is a lot more, the sidewalk will help mitigate other costs, like flooding).
4. Although there are no special levies for local taxpayers for this project, property taxes, based on the value of property, may go up as a result of a more attractive street. Also, if extra funds are required to maintain certain improvements (like trees and gardens), a levy may be enforced for business owners in the area.
5. The Polish Festival was thwarted this year due to the street being in shambles – total bummer for the huge chunk of Polish families in the hood, and all external schnitzel enthusiasts.

Here’s what some business owners in the area have to say…
Shannon from The Mercantile (297 Roncesvalles Ave.)
Q. What do you think is the best case scenario that the project could achieve? Worst case scenario?
A. The best achievement would be for the project to be done on time – before Christmas. That way there will be parking and easy access to all shops for the holiday season. Worst case scenario would be for the whole project to be dragged out like St.Clair. The fact that business’ have no control over the whole scenario and the fact that the city does not compensate small business on any level, then the least that can be done is to be done on time! Regardless of what it takes.
Q. Do you have any business mantras to help you remain sane during this time of construction and recession?
A. “It will be beautiful when it’s done” (smile)
Q. Why should people shop, dine, and hang out on Roncy?
A. It is a beautiful and diverse neighbourhood to live in as well as to visit. A walk up or down Roncy has a lot to offer.
Check out for information on the various gourmet / health foods and unique gift baskets the Mercantile has to offer.

Kevin from Alternative Grounds (333 Roncesvalles Ave.)
Q. How have businesses in the area helped each other out since the construction started?
A. I know other businesses (in the area) tell people to go by Alternative Grounds to have a cup of coffee, and there are a lot of merchants that do use our store. I also tend to try to by as much from Roncy as I can.
Q. What is the best case scenario that the project could achieve to you?
A. Once it’s finished its going to be beautiful, and so many people will be attracted to come to the street. It’s going to be good for pedestrian traffic; it will allow the place to become more popular in the city. I’m positive on that side.
Q. Worst case scenario?
A. Oh come on … I don’t want to even think about it! The worst case scenario would be St. Clair, where all of a sudden it took three years. The worst case scenario would be not finishing on time. When you see the end coming, then you can say we can hang on till then. When that happens, and it’s not actually the end, it’s harder to take.
Q. Do you have any business mantras that you like to keep in mind during these tough times on Roncy?
A. The end will come. The end of construction WILL come!
Alternative Grounds offers a cozy, bohemian atmosphere with a plethora of natural treats and damn fine coffee. For more info visit

Marc from Thin Blue Line Cheese (93 Roncesvalles Ave.)
Q. Is there anything businesses on Roncy can do to try and make their situation more liveable?
A. I’m not sure there is anything more we can do other than to bug the B.I.A (business improvement area) and leave messages on contractor voicemails!
Q. What is the best case scenario that the project could achieve?
A. I think we are all in agreement that it will be a nicer street once it is finished. That will bring more foot traffic to our shops!
Q. Do you have any business mantras that you like to keep in mind during these tough times on Roncy?
A. I’d like to hear one! Just keeping optimistic and looking forward to the future.
Thin Blue Line Cheese supplies cocktail parties all over Roncy with fresh local cheese and an entire spectrum of exotic breads.