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Is Greektown Toronto becoming less Greek?

Posted by Robyn Urback / March 19, 2011

Greektown TorontoIs it just me, or is there something about a Mark's Work Wearhouse that doesn't scream "authentically Greek?" Yet right in the middle of Greektown Toronto, at the corner of Danforth and Gough, the Canadian Tire sister chain has set up camp, giving its automatic doors a hefty workout in the few years since its inception.

It's less busy across the street, particularly on the strip of the Danforth between Gough and Carlaw, where four storefronts are now for lease, while another advertises a closing sale. As I continue walking west, I discover more; Athenian Originals Children's Wear has closed up, same with Iliada Cafe and Pikilia Mediterranean Grill. And who's moving in? Well, all sorts of different places.

Greektown TorontoSome sushi restaurants have sprouted up, a Kernel's a couple of years ago, there's Ardene, a Legs Beautiful, Tsaa Tea Shop, Aravind, Pizzeria Libretto and a new Dolce Gelato slated close to Chester station. And while the incoming businesses are all of varied mold, most share one distinct characteristic; that is, they're not Greek. So while Mark's may have once seemed the odd man out, if Greektown keeps heading in this direction, it may soon be less the anomaly than the trend.

The businesses that are closing down are disproportionately the Greek ones, many of which were independent and family-owned. As I went to talk to business owners on the Danforth to find out why, I kept hearing the same thing over and over: the rent is just too high.

Greektown Toronto"I use to work in real estate," a woman behind the counter at Athena Bakery tells me. "And I know that these rates are just astronomical. Then, when you factor in property taxes, which sometimes the business owners have to pay part of, it becomes too much."

"In the '80s, my father had a store here," she continues. "But when his lease was up, and the landlord wanted to raise it to $5,000 a month, he said, 'Enough!' and packed up and moved off the Danforth. I think the same thing is happening now."

Greektown TorontoI called a few of the spaces up for lease, and found they were going for anywhere from $25 per square foot to $40 per square foot for one particular 5,000 square foot retail space. "When it gets so high," the woman said, shaking her head, "only the big chains can afford to move in."

But according to one of the owners I spoke to at Greek City down the street, that's not necessarily a bad thing. "The chains bring in new clientele; they bring in the non-ethnic demographic that might not come here otherwise," she says. "The problem I have is with all of the sushi places moving in. They don't do anyone any good except for the sushi places themselves."

"But I have noticed things changing, especially in the past two years," she continues. "People just don't have the money to spend when they go out like they used to."

Greektown TorontoThat's part of Chris Collins' theory, who owns Corner Lot Home D├ęcor just east of Pape. "I think the issue is threefold," he tells me. "One: the rents are insanely high. Two: many of the older businesses owners are retiring and their kids don't want to take over [the woman I spoke to at Athena said she knew of at least one closure that was due to this scenario], and three; the Danforth residential is changing."

Collins says he's seen the demographic shift from older couples to young families, many of whom don't have the money to pay for evenings out. "It used to be that people in the area would go out to Greek restaurants three or four times a week," he says. "But now, you have young couples who have just put a massive down payment on a home, and they don't have the money to do that sort of thing. And as a result, the businesses begin to suffer."

Collins says there's also more diversification in terms of who's moving in. "It's not just Greek families anymore."

Greektown TorontoAnd while more diversification in terms of businesses isn't necessarily a bad thing, the worry is that it will go too far. As my conversation at Athena draws to a close, I catch the woman behind the counter glance out the window and heave a solemn sigh. "I'm really sad to see this area becoming less Greek," she says. "I'm afraid the only thing still Greek in a couple of years will just be the signs."

Discussion

42 Comments

ROB / March 19, 2011 at 10:27 am
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Greektown is becoming less Greek, Little Italy is becoming less Italian and we're all getting a little more Asian. Trying to find AUTHENTIC Greek and Italian cuisine in this city is becoming increasingly difficult.

The woman behind the counter is correct.
sam / March 19, 2011 at 11:45 am
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What you're describing is a microcosm of what is going on in general as big business consumes small business. We gain things like convenience and lower prices at the cost of authenticity and decency.
... / March 19, 2011 at 11:59 am
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Oh, a place that is not Greece is becoming less Greek. Boo-fucking-hoo.

Are we going to have follow-up articles on places being less Canadian aka white?
michelle / March 19, 2011 at 12:10 pm
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I personally know of 2 non-Greek small businesses moving onto the Danforth. I don't think that Mark's Work Warehouse should be grouped in with these smaller, independent businesses. Yes, the rent is high (welcome to Toronto), but if younger Greek generations are not interested in carrying on the family business, or opening up new Greek spots on the Danforth, then any other (non-Greek) people opening up small businesses on the street shouldn't be looked down on. What should the non-Greeks do? Pass up a nice space and location because they're not Greek? Rent is just as high, and running business is just as difficult for the non-Greek people too.
Roscoe / March 19, 2011 at 12:46 pm
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How much longer until a huge condo development destroys everything in the name of profit. Toronto is becoming nothing but condos and shit.
In reply to whoever the hell ... is / March 19, 2011 at 02:01 pm
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wow these people speak up for whats happening to their neighborhood and all u can do is make disparaging comments and try to belittle them. You're a real friggin jerk and thats being far too generous. Good people, and the neighborhoods they live in are ruined one after another because of large corporate businesses edging out smaller business. I dont care if i can go to friggin walmart and save a few bucks and do all my shopping there. The few bucks i can save doesnt make up for the soul of the neighborhood that store and others like it has destroyed in countless places and the good people who no longer are able to make s dignified living doing something they wanted to do and their community appreciated them for.

You like the process by which neighborhoods die due to soul crushing, neighborhood destroying large corporations so much then go shop at your walmart, frequent your starbucks without a thought as to the consequences they bring but please kindly stfu and let those who unlike yourself arent soul-less and still care talk in peace already.
AV / March 19, 2011 at 02:23 pm
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You are aware that there was a large Greektown on Bloor between Shaw and Ossington some time ago, correct? Things change, ebb/flow.
Logan Carlaw / March 19, 2011 at 03:09 pm
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The residential neighbourhood around the western Danforth used to be strongly Greek, but that ended in the late 1980s. The last couple of censuses have shown a minimal Greek population. That the Danforth retail strip would become less Greek over time isn't surprising. Pruning the number of big unimaginative Greek restaurants (grilled something or other, salad with feta, large serving of rice plus roast potato) is probably a good thing, if something else takes their place.

The whole Greek-on-the-Danforth thing has become kind of fake anyway, given the demographics of the neighbourhood (which flees Taste of the Danforth every summer: http://bit.ly/f15vB0, http://bit.ly/eLrHPA).

Wakey Wakey / March 19, 2011 at 03:19 pm
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Did you go into a coma in the mid 90's and just wake up?

It ain't been really greek in decades.

Can't wait for your piece on Little Italy.

That will rock the world.
scottd / March 19, 2011 at 04:42 pm
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It hasnt been Greek in years, in fact Greeks started moving away in the early 90's. Its just part of a natural demographic change. As a side note, this is the second Greektown, the original was over where Koreatown is; in fact I think there are still one or two Greek shops still there from the 70's.
bill / March 19, 2011 at 04:55 pm
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the same shit is happening in ALL ethnic neighborhoods in the city. The point is rent is getting insane in the city, small businesses - in this case,on the danforth - are being forced
out. Major chains are moving in and the soul of these neighborhoods are being ripped apart. Some people care, some people don't. I've grown up on the danforth (as it was known before it was called greektown) and I've seen it happen. It's sad but an unfortunate reality. So enjoy your Boston Pizza, Starbucks and Tim Horton's - might as well live in the suburbs.
bill replying to a comment from Wakey Wakey / March 19, 2011 at 04:56 pm
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so f'n true!
Bronwyn / March 19, 2011 at 05:04 pm
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what is a "non-ethnic demographic" anyways?
Jonathan / March 19, 2011 at 05:36 pm
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Someone should write Mayor Eggleton about this.
Mykonos Scott / March 19, 2011 at 05:55 pm
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I am from Scranton PA. My friend is named Spyros who is all about the ladies!

I also know a Paul "Barry" Karn who is 33 & lives in him parents basement!
Greek Food / March 20, 2011 at 02:39 pm
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As someone who spent the better part of his life living and working in Greektown Toronto, I can assure you that the neighbourhood feeling is all but gone. What few Greek restaurants & cafes remain are slowly but surely going the way of the Dodo. Unfortunately, this phenomenon is pretty common throughout the city as neighbourhood businesses are disappearing and being replaced by large commercial operators/concerns and/or condiminiums etc. I guess that's the price of "progress"... Yia mas!
dave / March 21, 2011 at 01:05 am
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I think it all comes down to what places in Greektown (The Danforth) one chooses to support, because if new bussineses opening in the area are not supported will not do well and send a very strong mesage for the next investers. But when I see two tai or two sushi places side by side staying on, then that's quite unfortunate for the neighbourhood's identity. I love asian cuisine that's when I go to Chinatown…which by the way doesn't have any Greek or Italian or anything else but Asian…oh well.
Danny / March 21, 2011 at 01:48 am
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The rents are excessive. On College rents per foot are comparable, but the stores on Danforth are much larger, so much higher overall rent. Some place pay 15-20k (or more) a month in base rent plus taxes, maintenance, insurance etc. How many businesses can afford that? Older Greeks own most of the commercial space and they wouldn't give their own mother a break on rent.

But this is the market at work and things do change. Toronto's "Greektown" will end up like the ones in Chicago or Detroit....called Greektown, but with very little Greek in it.
Nikita Messinia / March 21, 2011 at 04:36 am
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This scenario is not unique to Canada, here in Melbourne (supposedly the biggest Greek city outside of Greece) the "official" Greek precinct is a joke, it's more of an archeological site of our parents generation than anything these days. However with a Greek populous that is evenly spread over the whole city, Greek precincts have sprung up naturally in the suburbs and taken on a life of their own. So I suspect there will be life after "Greektown"....should it die a natural death?
GMD / March 21, 2011 at 09:19 am
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A UofT geography student debunked the Greektown and Little Italy myths a few years ago, finding that the these were branding moves by the BIAs to build local business as the original ethnic communities dispersed to the suburbs and elsewhere.
iSkyscraper / March 21, 2011 at 09:45 am
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So the rents are high, so what? If the landlords can't lease space at those prices, the rents will come back down. Meanwhile, the neighbourhood will evolve as neighbourhoods always have. One ethnic group moves out, another moves in, etc. Interesting to see the photos but there is nothing to do but observe.
Graeme replying to a comment from Bronwyn / March 21, 2011 at 09:55 am
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I suppose Canadians with no other recent ethnic backround are counted as the "non-ethnic" demographic. As a 7th gen Canadian with very little connection to my great-great-great...grandparent's mother land (Ireland) I have struggled in the past with the sentiment that being just Canadian isn't really a real background. Everyone is from somewhere else here, and if you're not, you're are generically "non-ethnic".
Alki Stereopolis / March 21, 2011 at 01:21 pm
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Where am I gonna get my souvlaki now?
Crimson Cass / March 21, 2011 at 02:39 pm
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I suspect that we wouldn't get so worked up about neighbourhoods changing if we weren't so obsessed with branding an area. In the natural flow of things, a neighbourhood's character changes over time; but the street signs and official tourist map names still preserve a snapshot of what was once and now no longer is.

Do we really have to be so formal all the time? Can't we just nickname a neighbourhood and be in the now? Our city is a marvellous mix and flux of energy and creativity. Labeling something as dynamic as a neighbourhood is to set yourself up for eventual disappointment.
George replying to a comment from Roscoe / March 22, 2011 at 05:18 pm
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I for one would welcome a condo development so I can then afford to move into the area and happily support the small business.
Rusty Needle / May 5, 2011 at 04:12 pm
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It used to be Macedonian before it was greek. Now it's all Albanian.
bored / May 8, 2011 at 07:22 am
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The city as a whole has degenerated to cater to the Drive Through generation. Greektown, with its charming pedestrian friendly side walks but severe lack of parking spaces cannot accommodate today's car crazed suburbanites. Urban sprawl in combination with the utterly impotent public transportation system of Toronto have killed neighbourhoods that once flourished.
Bill / May 8, 2011 at 08:34 am
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Get Real. I grew up and went to high school in the 80s in the burbs. Sir John A. macdonald. A school with a very big Greek population. A lot of my greek buddies' parents ran restaurants in Greek town but had long since moved to the burbs. By Choice!!! That's the reality of greektown. The neighbourhood is just not very heavily populated by Greeks anymore so of course its going to reflect that. But come on! If you can't find some good greek food on the danforth then there's something seriously wrong with you! 30 greek restaurants on an 8 block stretch not enough for you??
Theo replying to a comment from George / December 1, 2011 at 12:47 pm
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That is the worst thing I've heard. It would ruin the neighborhood further. High rise development is counter-intuitive to functioning streetscapes, public space and vibrant neighborhoods. They are vertical suburbs essentially, go to the big, open, and dead space between the condos on lakeshore for example, with their Longos on the ground floor. There should be ceiling caps at 4-8 stories for residential buildings. Why do you want to spend half your day entering and exiting these places and having your sun blocked out of view by other high rises in the blistering cold winter. Danforth is nice cuz of its low buildings, its human scale.
Bill replying to a comment from Alki Stereopolis / January 30, 2012 at 06:58 pm
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Mr.Greek is still there!!!
Steven replying to a comment from Roscoe / March 16, 2012 at 02:20 am
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Condos are killing this city. People don't buy local.
Steven replying to a comment from Roscoe / March 16, 2012 at 02:21 am
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Condos are killing the pockets of communities that where once present.
Steven replying to a comment from Logan Carlaw / March 16, 2012 at 02:26 am
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I now where the new greektown is and I am not telling any of you guys for fear you will destory it with coffee, discont shops and trendy winter jackets.
Steven replying to a comment from Logan Carlaw / March 16, 2012 at 02:35 am
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Those tredny jackets every one is wearing that are promoted by the stars to brain wash you to wear.
Peter / October 31, 2012 at 02:02 am
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Unfortunately the Danforth is becoming less and less Greek. It's slowly turning into a College St. More and more Italian eateries, pizzerias and gelato places opening up.
jim / November 13, 2012 at 09:12 pm
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This is the price of 'diversity'. Every neighbourhood will be a characterless mismash of ethnicities. No character, no identity, just a boring blend of the same crap you find elsewhere. Thank immigration for this.
Earl Cammenbert replying to a comment from Theo / November 14, 2012 at 03:14 am
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'There should be ceiling caps at 4-8 stories for residential buildings.'

Hell, when I was a kid, most residential buildings DID top out at 4-8 stories, and were better for that. What is this whole fracking trend to be building that residential towers to be that big in the first place?

As to the subject of this article, what will Toronto do to keep the classic neighborhoods the ways they are while still advancing towards the future? This part of Toronto, along with the other downtown areas of the 'old' city, is the ONLY part even worth visiting (and the only part that tourists would even want to visit.) What will happen when it's a bland and homogenized as Scarborough/North York, etc. used to be, restaurant-wise? I don't see tourists coming to North York to eat at a strip mall sushi place on Pharmacy Avenue or a similar place serving Indian food on Sheppard, do you?
Picka / November 14, 2012 at 09:10 am
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Once I went to get a souvlaki in greek town, and i thought the restaurant was greek as the signs portrait, but inside it was run by asian/indians. There is no more real greek left. Maybe this has to do with the greek crisis in grece. It shows where the real money came from, from the mother land. You do the math!!!
Angi replying to a comment from ... / November 14, 2012 at 09:27 am
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Not that matters,but Greeks are not white. If you go to England or Northern Europe, they do not consider them white.
They call them Olive.
NativeOfToronto / April 26, 2013 at 11:51 am
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"White" is used for Anglo-Saxon British Isles, Ireland and Northern Europe for example, Nordic countries and Germanic. Greeks are just under European, or to be even more precise, Mediterranean.

It's true about our districts suffering and becoming less authentic. It does have to do with the economy as the woman in the article had voiced, but it's also too much immigration. Non-stop and unbalanced unlike before. These days, it's always immigration from Asia, the countries with the highest populations, to be exact. Which is why it's not fair to see Chinatown being the only one staying quite authentic, and more of them popping up in different areas. Brampton is another one.
NativeOfToronto / April 26, 2013 at 11:53 am
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Jamaica as well, a lot from them, and some say it's because they are one of the Commonwealths who apply a lot for immigration. So they get priority treatment.
John / April 6, 2014 at 05:54 pm
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Most Greek restaurants.in T.O. offer a Greek tourist food theme. Tzadziki is not Greek, nor is the Gyro. So instead of making Greek versions of middle eastern food, Greek restaurants should return to offer authentic diahes like arrichoke frikase, pasta along with baked cod from the classic ala.carte style Contstantinople cuisine.

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