Donald Woods has owned the house his entire life. In fact, Woods is the third generation in his family to take possession of the building, but this isn't the story of some greedy offspring seeing dollar signs in his inheritance. Woods is not a young man and he's held onto that property for quite a long time, but his years of running the building as a rooming house are behind him. The place has become more work than his deteriorating health can handle and as a result, for the first time since the late 1800's, one of the few houses left on Peter is looking for new owners.
She's been located on Peter Street since 1994 and called the place home until about three years ago. When she arrived it was a fairly quiet side street in the funky fashion district of Queen West.
"When I first moved down here it was the fashion district, not the entertainment district," she said. "There was maybe one or two clubs, lots of business people, it was - it was heaven."
The first kind occupies the upper five floors of this six-floor mid-rise. They're companies like Red Rover Studios - a special effects and animation company that works with the likes of Pixar, Disney and Universal pictures. These types of businesses - creative studios, ad agencies, software firms - have managed to carve out a symbiotic relationship with the neighbourhood. They're fairly removed from any ground level chaos, they can cover the cost of skyrocketing rent, and they're full of young people.
Danielle Araiche has been an executive producer at Red Rover since 2003. She finds the area quite hospitable.
"It's actually a really great area to work in," she said. "A lot of great restaurants, it's lively, and everything sort of changes over at night; Thursday, Friday and Saturday it's like a whole new culture and that's kind of neat."
But this is where the issues lie for the other businesses at 345 Adelaide. At ground level there's been a revolving door of restaurants that can't seem to make the neighbourhood work for them. It's certainly not for lack of people; with the area bringing in unique demographics day and night, the streets are always busy. So then what's the problem?
"I embrace my business with a very positive attitude," he said. " I'll bend over backwards to take care of my customers."
It's that kind of old world attitude that comes through so easily when speaking to Mourtos. He's warm and inviting and seems to know everyone in the neighbourhood. Even as we speak, people are steadily popping in to say hello and he is always delighted to engage.
The building is a modest structure built in a former laneway. It's a little haphazard but that's part of its charm. Any given morning the place fills up with suits and labourers alike all looking for a classic breakfast and a bottomless cup of coffee to start the day.
But even those regulars to the neighbourhood have started to change. Since the mid-nineties nightclubs have been steadily moving in, driving real estate rates sky high and putting a strain on many of the traditional businesses of the area.
Mourtos's neighbour, Chris Kotsaboikidis, owns and operates New York Furs next door at 342 Adelaide St. W. When he moved in 17 years ago, the neighbourhood was littered with small manufacturers pumping out leather, fur and various other garments, but when the clubs began moving in, many of Kotsaboikidis's colleagues moved out.
"A lot of the fashion businesses moved up to Lawrence because real estate got so expensive here," he said. "It used to be a lot cheaper, now it's five times the money because of all the restaurants and clubs."
Today Kotsaboikidis is one of just a few left from that former era. As the area becomes better known for its nightlife, retailers like Kotsaboikidis have a tougher and tougher time attracting the clientele down to their storefronts.
"The More bars and nightclubs that open, the more the retail business goes down," he said.
And while Mourtos might have a steady clientele of regulars in the area, he's sympathetic; but his issue with the nightlife is more about respect.
"My neighbours are a club and now my parking is always filthy, " he said. "They have hoses coming down the wall and as the rain comes it dumps on our side. During the winter months it freezes and what happens is it can fall and cut like a knife, it happened. The car next door was cut in half by it."
And while the nightclubs attract a lot of people to the area, it's not really the clientele Mourtos is looking for.
"It would be feasible to operate 24 hours a day now," he said. "As the area becomes more residential and mixed use it would make sense to operate 24 hours, but with the clubs it becomes problematic--I don't want to deal with the rowdiness."
But just as the clubs replaced manufacturers, a new dimension to the neighbourhood is beginning to sprout up that gives Mourtos hope--people. While many might gripe about the condo boom in Toronto, many downtown merchants benefit from the increased foot traffic. Not only that, but a strong residential population in the area does a lot to prevent free reign for the various club owners.
"It's changing, the people at city hall are trying to move the clubs out of the area, " he said. "It's becoming kind of a high-end area that is desirable, whether its condos or restaurants."
Kotsaboikidis agrees. He's looking forward to seeing more people back in the neighbourhood.
"I think it's getting better because it's becoming more residential," he said. " It will be good for the area. "
Writing by Luke Champion. Photos by Dennis Marciniak