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.
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
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.
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_