Author | Photo Kayla Rocca

The Women Behind Small Businesses and Non-Profits in Parkdale – A Photo Essay

It’s Saturday in December, or what would typically be one of the biggest shopping weekends in the calendar year, but the blocks that line Toronto’s most densely populated west-end neighbourhood are desolate. 

As we move into month ten of the pandemic, small businesses are barely hanging on. Many are wondering how they’ll make rent, or ever recover from the never-ending challenges that 2020 has hurled at them.

Burnout was a word used back in April, after weeks of plummeting revenues and catastrophic uncertainty. But months of nonstop pivoting, and a lack of government support, have pushed things to a new level of frustration. “Burnout” doesn’t seem to encapsulate the hell that small businesses have gone through. 

And yet there still remains a sense of community togetherness, a feeling of hope that hits you when you lean in to see messages posted in storefront windows, or spot a shopkeeper stepping out for a curbside exchange. 

There is an eerie absence of people on the streets, but community care and activism is very much alive.

The heart and soul of the neighbourhood is present, even if the sidewalks are barren. But the small businesses that bring so much vibrancy to the strip cannot continue without support. Here they share with us the toughest part about trying to keep afloat during the pandemic.

BAND Gallery / 19 Brock Avenue / Est. 2010
 
“This year has been filled with a multitude of both challenges and victories. COVID-19 has devastated the Canadian arts community. We have had to find creative ways to plan and present exhibitions and to engage with people virtually. BAND Gallery is a small organization, but with the support of donors and our members we were able to continue to provide opportunities for artists and cultural workers during this troubling time.” – Claudia Pensa Bowen
 
How to Support: View and purchase powerful works from the current exhibition ‘Darkness and Decadence’ by Krystal Ball here. BAND Gallery also has an online shop with lots of gorgeous prints for sale
 
Follow on IG: @blackartndialog
 

Sylvie and Shimmy / 1640 Queen Street W. / Est. 2013

“Transitioning from being solely brick and mortar for the past seven years to operating an online shop has been challenging because we had a very limited time frame, budget and capacity although it has been rewarding as we have been able to reach new customers outside of the Parkdale Community.” – Caroline Sylvester and Kyungjoo Shim

How to Support: Stock up on cozy knits, plush sweatshirts and everyday quality basics that are well priced. Shop online or arrange curbside pickup. 

Follow on IG: @sylvieandshimmy

The Tempered Room / 1374 Queen Street W. / Est. 2014

“This pandemic has increased economic, racial, and social disparity like never before. Just looking around in Parkdale, it’s been heartbreaking seeing chains callously come in and open their shiny new facades during the pandemic while everyone else struggles to make rent. The biggest challenge has been not letting feelings of hopelessness pervade, and instead focusing on getting creative, finding new avenues to climb through, and then reaching back and giving a hand to whoever you can, as soon as you can. Together we rise.” – Humera Ali
 
How to Support: Go for a walk and treat yourself to the most exquisite pastries in town, or deliver a bag of sweet and savoury delights to a friend who could use a lift. Known for their French Viennoiserie, it’s indisputable that The Tempered Room makes the best croissant in Toronto. Known affectionately as “Paris in Parkdale”; see full cake and pâtisserie menu here
 
Follow on IG: @thetemperedroom
 

Parkdale Pet Foods / 1556 Queen Street W. / Est. 2020

“The pet store dream began in January and by the end of February, a storefront had been leased and renos were underway. No one could have predicted the impact of the pandemic. Navigating the utter uncertainty and unpredictability of it all has been the biggest challenge. When you can’t control or forecast with some certainty, it really does ask for a high level of fortitude and trust which is especially daunting when one is learning all the ropes for the very first time. But this wonderful community has really held me together and believed in this pet store so much – I am so honoured to have the opportunity to serve all these wonderful pets and pet parents every day that I get to be open.” – Brenda Kahura 

How to Support: Got a dog or cat? Or know someone who does? Find them affordable quality pet food here! Maybe a treat or two too. If you’re a new pet owner in the neighbourhood, navigating how to best care for your fur baby, give Brenda a call!

Follow on IG: @parkdalepetfoods 

Parkdale Centre for Innovation, 1464 Queen Street W. / Est. 2018

“There’s often a misconception that entrepreneurship and this work is glamorous, it isn’t. Businesses and people are struggling during this time, it’s a sad reality of Parkdale and other underrepresented neighbourhoods. Many folks, especially newcomers, in fact start a business, because they’re not able to find work. 

Buildings and storefronts are being abandoned and shut down for lease. It’s important now more than ever to support local businesses, especially ones that are women, newcomer and Black-led/owned businesses.” – Rusul Alrubail 
 
How to Support: Parkdale Centre is a not for profit incubator and accelerator that supports entrepreneurs at the early stage of their business, with a focus on inclusion and equity. You can support them, and the Parkdale community, by helping to spread the word on all the amazing programs they offer! Applications are currently open for Winter 2021 Early-Stage Entrepreneurship and Women Founders programs, all online. Find out more, and tell a friend who could use the support. 
 
Follow on IG: @ParkdaleCentre 
 

Shangri-La Tibetan Cuisine, 1600 Queen Street W.

“We love to serve our customers and we take pride in treating them like friends and family, but with Covid-19 restrictions we’ve not only had a loss of income, but we’re not able to serve and connect with our customers the way we love to do. This pandemic has hit us and most other small businesses hard, and it’s been an uphill battle to stay open and serve our community, but because of continued support from our customers we’ve thankfully been able to survive.” – Tsering Dolkar

How to Support: Specializing in Tibetan, Nepali and Indian cuisine, call Tsering up and enjoy a feast of comfort food including Momos, chicken chilli, soups, curries and so much more. If you know someone who’s having a hard time, consider ordering them dinner. View the full menu here

Follow on IG: @shangrilatibetancuisine

iSLAS Filipino BBQ / 1690 Queen Street W. / Est. 2017

iSLAS is a sit-down restaurant so it takes a while to fully adapt to take-out service operation, we have to make major changes on our menu to be take-out friendly. Our sales dropped more than 50%, we need to cut labor and as an owner to work more hours to save cost.” – Mariel Buenaventura 

How to Support: This is the BBQ place in town you should be supporting! Order a Boodle Box, their signature tasting menu of traditional Filipino fare that is served in a box, or place an order for mouthwatering Filipino BBQ, served fresh off the grill!  Full menu here. 

Follow on IG: @islastoronto 

INFUSED / 1564 Queen Street W. / Est. 2020

When it comes to the hardest part of this experience, Monique Boakye-Yiadom tells it like it is: “Keeping the lights on.” Like everyone else, she can’t wait until restaurant doors can reopen to welcome customers inside for delicious Caribbean cuisine. 

How to Support: Order up some delicious vegetarian and pescatarian Jamaican infused dishes, or choose from one of the food kits on offer, including the Jerk Pineapple Tower or Sugar or the Sugar and Spice food kit. See full menu here

Follow on IG: @itsinfused_ 

 

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