Sauntering along the Danforth between Pape and Broadview is a boulevardier's trip. The Mediterranean-inspired tavernas are often teeming until the wee hours of the morning, serving up plates of skewered meat, rice and feta-covered salads.
Window shopping in Greektown is a local pastime. Family-owned butcher shops share the streetfront with trendy coffee houses and home decor shops. It's a diverse, funky and low-key scene. The antithesis of prefab, suburban mall life.
Sure, big chains like Starbucks and Baskin-Robbins have carved out corners for themselves in recent years. But most shops are still locally owned and operated. And many locals want to keep it that way.
The thing is, the strip has become a victim of its own success. The summer street fest A Taste Of The Danforth alone draws hundreds of thousands to the area on a single weekend. So it's not exactly surprising that the big chains have decided to grab a piece of the action.
Riverdalians who are intimately attached to their local tzatziki and cappuccino, however, are bristling at the pending invasion of Tim Bits, Biggie fries and bacon double cheeseburgers
Yup, Tim Hortons and Wendy's -- food for hard hats, hockey moms, hosers (and the odd journalist) -- are moving in.
The joint doughnut-burger venture (Tim Horton's merged with Wendy's International in 1995; there are 80 joint stores in Canada) is scheduled to set up in what was a dollar store on the corner of Logan and Danforth. And just a block away, at Carlaw, Swiss Chalet -- the rotisserie chicken and fries pusher -- is moving into a failed Future Bakery (which was a failed Italian restaurant before that).
Threatening livelihood While their neon signs might be a welcome sight at the side of the highway, some residents believe this franchise won't fit in on their block.
A petition is already circulating in the 'hood claiming that these chain stores are "changing the landscape and feel of our street and threatening the livelihood of small businesses."
Mike Tanner, who is organizing the campaign with others, says they have so far collected over 150 names.
While he has no particular ethical problem with either Tim Hortons or Wendy's, he doesn't believe they will fit in on the street.
"It compromises the atmosphere of the Danforth," Tanner says. "I wouldn't want to see it turn into Yonge and Eglinton."
Local councillor Jack Layton, who has opposed big-box stores in the port lands, is lining up behind the Danforth petitioners.
"Can we not protect ourselves from this homogenizing effect?" asks Layton. "I'm going to try to find a way to make sure that Tim Hortons understands they are not welcomed by an awful lot of people in the neighbourhood."
Evangelo Pitsaditis, whose family owns the building Tim Hortons and Wendy's are moving into, can't understand what all the fuss is about.
"I didn't hear anybody cry when Starbucks came in," says Pitsaditis, who runs the Academy Billiards and Sports Bar on second floor.
Pitsaditis is no Johnny-come-lately looking to cash in. His father has run the pool hall and owned the building for the past 25 years.
Pitsaditis says they rented it out to the fast-food chain for less than they normally would have asked, because of the long-term stability of having them as tenants.
He says both he and his sister are patients presently on dialysis waiting for kidney transplants. The steady rent income will be their future social security cheque.
Tim Hortons' spokesperson, Diane Slopek, says the company tries to tailor its stores to the communities they're in. She says the Danforth store will have more modern colours and designs. "We always like to fit in," she says.
Tailored stores If anybody were going to get uptight about a burger joint opening up on the Danforth, you'd think it would be Pitsaditis's next-door neighbour. Mocha Mocha is a popular independent restaurant on the strip. It serves great vegetarian fare, including an awesome brown rice salad plate.
However, owner Marijan Tripkozic has no problem with the chain moving in, and wishes his new neighbour well.
"It will bring some more light to the area," he says.
While there are no city laws preventing the expansion of these restaurant chains onto the Danforth, they must comply with the area plan.
Local policy Retiring Beaches councillor Tom Jakobek says the chain influx doesn't necessarily mean the end of local small businesses. He claims that the local policy restricting the size of restaurants on the Queen East strip has limited the impact of the chains, including McDonald's, which opened a small restaurant a few years back. In the Beaches, restaurant size is restricted to 1,764 square feet.
"It didn't allow for an O'Tooles or a roadhouse or a mega-McDonald's, and that has its benefits," Jakobek says.
The Greektown on the Danforth BIA was supposed to consider this issue earlier this week, but the meeting was postponed.
TOTAL BUSINESSES: over 320
TOTAL RESTAURANTS: about 100
TOTAL RETAIL: about 107