What do they want? Why now? A crackdown by bylaw enforcement officers in Kensington Market - this time on storefronts encroaching on sidewalk space without a permit - has some Market long-timers wondering how long before its chaotic charm is demolished in favour of cobblestones and gas lamps. (See Distillery District)
For the last few weeks, inspectors have been ordering merchants without costly permits to dismantle their structural add-ons.
The Market was recently declared an historic site. So is this all an attempt at "beautification' for the benefit of tourists and nearby condo dwellers?
Trinity-Spadina councillor Adam Vaughan insists it is not. "Not one brick or piece of wood will be touched in Kensington Market," he says. "I talked to Joe Magalhaes (supervisor of property standards inspectors), and he assured me no demo orders have been placed."
But can the newbie councillor hold off municipal licensing and standards staff bent on a new round of enforcement? And what does it say about the city's workings that a number of merchants already have permits, while some have never been asked?
Leonard Lutchminarine has been selling hats, gloves and handkerchiefs from the front of his Economy Store at 236 Augusta for 26 years and says no one has ever asked for documentation.
The same goes for Cecilia Espinoza a few doors south at Latin America Emporium (243 Augusta). She's been selling groceries and homemade pupusas for 17 years. If you've spent an afternoon feasting on beans and cheese and spicy homemade slaw over salsa music at the Emporium, you did it in an illegal structure.
"I was new in this country. Nobody told me we needed a special permit. The space was like this when we moved in," says Espinoza.
The first she heard of the need for a permit was March 9, when she was served with notice from the city demanding that she "remove the unauthorized encroachment"onto city property or face "possible seizure of equipment, goods and/or merchandise."
"I don't mind paying,' she says, "but they gave me 30 days to tear down the structure. It's not even my building."
The building belongs to Brenda Ladowski, who grew up in the Market and took over the three family properties about 10 years ago. She wonders, "Is this about the prettification of the Market? Because there is a point to the Market, and that's not it."
The official guidelines for boulevard marketing allow for awnings at least 7 feet above the sidewalk that retract to the wall. The addition in front of L.A. Emporium on city land is more like an extra room: wooden framing with formica and drywall, a tile floor and a garage door that slides up along the ceiling. The exterior wall of the original building has been removed altogether.
Over at Shoney's Vintage Wear (222 Augusta), Eva Klein was also given notice. She's 75 years old, and she and her husband, Leslie, have owned their property since 1971. "We want to fix everything up," Klein says. "We've always paid our taxes. We don't know what they want from us."
Across the street at Harry David Workwear (220 Augusta), Jack Carrusca is breathing easy. The business has been here since 1957, and the front was reno'd in the 60s. He's always kept up with paying the permit. He shows me the latest invoice: $1,138. "Why should some people pay and some people not?" he asks.
I talk to 20 merchants with similar additions, and they're split down the middle: 10 have permits and 10 do not. So how could this go on for so long? And why this sudden blitz?
Kim Belshaw, the city's acting manager at municipal licensing and standards, finally returns my call and says, "Every once in a while we do a review and bring all our files up to date."
She informs me that the policy is clear. "New businesses must bring their structures up to current code."
"But these aren't new businesses," I protest.
She responds: "Our intention is to bring all structures on public land into conformity."
Later, I run into Vaughan walking down Queen, and I'm reminded of his days as our TV watchdog of the bureaucratic idiocy at City Hall.
"It's [the standards department's] own fault for letting the permits lapse for so long," he tells me. "They can't do this to Kensington."
I want to believe. I want to hope.
Michael J. Johnson is a co-founder of Streets Are for Peoplenews@nowtoronto.com