alimentari toronto

Landlord forcing Toronto store to close for a month and they don't even know when

A landlord is forcing their tenant, a Toronto business, to close for about a month this summer, and the worst part is, they don't even know when that will be yet.

Alimentari is an Italian store on Roncesvalles serving hot table items, baked goods and pantry staples like dry pasta and wine. 

Their landlord is now making significant changes to their building, trying to add multiple storeys on top. It's been affecting the business for years, and now they're speaking up about it.

The owners of Alimentari say the problems first began back in 2021 when the landlord began construction that started covering up rooftop equipment, which needs fresh air circulating to operate properly.

"Our AC unit fan motor gave out in the middle of August, due to the lack of fresh air circulation and because of the exhaust fan blowing out hot air next to it," Alimentari owner Sarah Terpstra tells blogTO.

"Our AC was down for several days, creating an extremely difficult work environment, as well as ruining cases of wine and chocolate products."

Since then, she says they've had their internet line cut leaving them unable to process payments for hours, the entrance and sidewalk blocked off with debris falling around the area, water damage, and frozen pipes bursting in January 2022 which actually caused so much damage they had to close for over a week.

"A pipe burst in the early hours of the morning pumping hundreds of gallons of water into our retail counter area, ruining all of the electronics and resulting in a complete tear out of the ceiling in the shop area," says Terpstra.

"Crews replaced the ceiling drywall, and we scrambled to buy and reinstall internet, scales, the POS, etc. The landlord's response to it all was, 'well, the insurance company will cover it.'"

Terpstra also says the building has some heritage elements which appear to have been ignored by the construction.

"The new facade was already complete and had, in fact, no more original masonry, nor a bay window, nor a step back at the roofline consistent with the buildings on either side," says Terpstra.

"The heritage department staff member said that even though the landlord acted in bad faith by ignoring these requests, unfortunately the City didn't have the ability to enforce them."

She says they were often not informed of work before it was performed and had to make lots of sudden adjustments which is difficult with a staff of 10.

"We have had to field many requests to provide access to their workers to shut our gas off during operational hours when we need gas to our ovens and range to make food to sell, turn the water off which we need to wash our hands, vegetables, and dishes," says Terpstra.

"...And install lines, pipes, etc., at times performing the work directly in front of our walk-in refrigerator door with the floor dug up and men blocking entry to the fridge for hours."

In order to continue with the renovation, equipment needs to be relocated, meaning the business would need to be closed for at least three weeks (probably more) to replace the hood and ductwork and also move the rooftop equipment.

Terpstra says the landlord wanted them to pay $78,000 for the equipment relocation, and didn't want to give them more than 15 days notice before the work would be performed.

"We hired a litigator who, after months and many thousands of dollars later, was able to bump up the notice period to 30 days, as well as secure us a rent-free but not insurance-free period during the closure," says Terpstra.

"Our landlord was not willing to budge much at all throughout the process. We were adamant about signing a lease renewal though, as we will need to be able to sell our lease and liquor license in order to recoup the funds we spent to buy the lease and liquor license from the previous business, aiding with the financial cost of moving our business to a new location."

At this point, Alimentari basically has to wait to find out when they're going to get that 30 days' notice, disclosing when they'll need to close up for around a month.

"We will be attempting to still provide the neighbourhood with their favourite Alimentari products, up at our butcher shop Russell's, which we opened with the intention of not having all of our eggs in one basket, in case things headed south quickly with this landlord," says Terpstra.

Alimentari and the landlord at 325 Roncesvalles have since been able to come to agreement and complete the lease renewal. Alimentari's closure lasted five weeks this summer, and the interruptions to the business have ended.

The owners still plan to sell their lease, in order to move into a larger space on the Roncesvalles strip, and the new tenant at 325 will be able to rest at ease knowing that they will never have to face interruptions to their business due to expansion again. Many other tenants on Roncesvalles will be subject to similar closures for years to come, as landlords seek to expand their square footage.

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