Ending an era and new beginnings

The rapid revitalization of downtowns and urban cores has driven up demand for housing in many North American (and especially Canadian) cities, raising property values and pushing some uses out. New townhouse and condominium developments often require long-standing businesses to close – as can new retail projects to serve the growing population.

Toronto Star columnist Tony Wong wrote a great piece a couple weeks ago about what is being lost.

The last customer in Tony Pontieri’s neighbourhood garage shop drove a black Honda Civic.

She had wanted a front licence plate put on her car, for which the dealer wanted to charge her an hourly rate. Pontieri did it free.

“I’m going to really miss you,” she told Pontieri, 49.

So will a lot of other customers. Independent garages in downtown Toronto are a rarity, and now one of the city’s oldest establishments is selling out for an undisclosed sum.

“It’s going to be tough leaving. I’ll really miss the customers,” said Pontieri, in shorts and a T-shirt, packing a skid as he prepared to move out by Monday. “This place is as old as I am.”

The Pontieri story is a familiar one. Toronto’s real estate boom has meant older, established businesses are cashing out to new development. Earlier this year, the iconic Addison on Bay Cadillac dealership closed its doors to make way for a condo.

The area has changed considerably from the time father Frank Pontieri opened the shop in 1958. “There were train tracks and hobos living in abandoned trains. Now I’m surrounded by million-dollar condos.”

Even the St. Lawrence Farmers’ Market next door has gone upscale. A sign outside advertises Organic Gourmet Tofu.

Pontieri figures at least half a dozen local garages have ceased to exist over the past decade.

Increasing population density in the city is generally a good thing for decreasing environmental impact and improving urban livability. But there is a cost.


  1. Here’s a wonderful essay from Andrew Blum making the same point. http://www.andrewblum.net/typepad/2007/10/local-cities-gl.html

  2. Wendy Waters says:

    Thanks.. That’s a great essay. It goes well beyond Wong’s piece. I like Blum’s argument or concern that “fake” localism disguising NIMBY or CAVE people attitudes may be driving poor planning decisions.

    The penalty for not increasing density in already great human-centred neighborhoods is sprawl and pollution as well as skyrocketing house prices in that great neighborhood.

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