grassroots toronto

The death of eco-friendly stores in Toronto

Grassroots on the Danforth closed down last weekend after spending 22 years helping Torontonians lead more eco-friendly lifestyles. And while customers may miss the east side mainstay, owner Rob Grand knows it was time to pull out of the eco-industry.

"This isn't a bad news story," he says. "This is actually a good news story." That's because, as he explains, green products are more mainstream these days; they appear on shelves at big-box retailers such as Loblaws, Walmart and Metro.

"The market changed," says Grand, describing how his business evolved since he opened Grassroots back in 1994. Most notably, shoppers started going online to find environmentally friendly and ethically sourced goods.

Along with increased competition, bigger outlets started to see a demand from those looking to lessen their carbon footprints. "Grassroots was no longer unique," says Grand. "And that had been one of our competitive advantages in the marketplace."

Despite this, former customers overwhelmed Grand with calls, emails and store visits after they found out Grassroots was shutting down. Some young people told him how they first learned about environmental issues at his store back when he had a filing cabinet filled with information - students used to come in to do research before Google was big.

Educating locals about these issues was all part of Grand's original game plan. Though, he wasn't alone. Numerous other stores that branded themselves eco or green-focused in some way, including Pistachio, Left Feet, Fertile Ground, Green is Black, Heart on Your Sleeve and The Zero Point have opened and closed over the past decade.

"Perhaps there isn't a need for a specialty green store any more," muses Grand.

With retail now behind him, he hopes to continue in the environmental field. For now though, he's proud of how he and his team - at both his Annex and Danforth stores - helped create more of a demand for green products.

While looking back on his 22 years at Grassroots, he remembers a conversation he had with a reporter back when he first opened. "I'm basically in business to go out of business," he said. "That's my goal."

Mission accomplished.

Photo by ecoSanity on Flickr.


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