Toronto City Hall

How dysfunction at City Hall impedes small business

Creme Fraiche Market has been trying to open a shop at Durie and Annette streets for the past year. Actually, maybe make that two years, since owners Constance Dykun and Rachel Silva have had their eyes on one particular storefront since 2010.

The pair began working together earlier that year, selling fresh Monforte Dairy cheeses at various farmers' markets throughout Toronto. "The thought came to mind after doing more than 15 markets," Constance says. "We wanted to make Monforte cheeses more accessible; to give it a home."

"The goal of the store," she continues, "would be to support Monforte cheese customers, as well as expand the conversation about sustainable food."

Not an overly lofty goal, it seems, so Rachel and Constance couldn't understand why their business license application wasn't going through. Finally, they got a letter in December saying their request had been denied.

"It wasn't until then that the zoning issue came to light," Rachel says. The prospective building for Creme Fraiche, which is actually an old house, previously held an art gallery, and before that, a hair salon. "The bottom line that we soon found out," Constance says, "is that it wasn't zoned for a food store." The shop, as planned, would sell a variety of cheeses, as well as breads, crackers, and fair trade organic coffee.

So, for the last several months, Constance has taken on the seemingly full time job of trying to secure a variance, while still accompanying Rachel to farmers markets. The trouble appears to be lack of communication between City departments — zoning doesn't talk to licensing, who doesn't talk to building permits, and the file is constantly being shifted from office to office. Constance decided to start tracing it herself, finding the person who had it on his or her desk and calling that person directly.

After countless hours on hold and visits to City offices, Creme Fraiche did enjoy a bit of a coup just a few days ago. "It was approved in about 10 minutes," Constance says of their variance application. "It was a great win."

The file will now stay open for about 30 days, during which anyone who wants to file a complaint can do so. If all goes well, Rachel and Constance are looking to finally open their shop the second week of June. And remarkably, neither one seems particularly jaded about the process. "I was ready to look for a new place," Rachel says, laughing. "But Constance was determined."

"It's been harmonious for the most part," Constance chimes in. "But it is a cumbersome process." In the meantime, Creme Fraiche will continue to tell its cheeses at markets around Toronto.

Photo by Reza Vaziri on Flickr

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