Last Thursday, last minute, I joined the Gerrard East Community Organization (GECO) for a meet and greet. We walked along a stretch of Gerrard St. East known as the Gerrard India Bazaar (only everyone calls it Little India), getting to know its businesses and business owners.
I live a mere 15 minute walk from this stretch of restaurants and stores selling spices, saris, and kitchenware but before last night had only been to two of its stores. But last night we dropped popped in to a bunch of shops and actually chatted with the owners.
These stretches of independent businesses get more and more rare as areas gentrify and big chain stores move in. Folks go shopping at mega-malls where the shops are familiar and the signage is bright and shiny (no hate on malls – I practically grew up at Yorkdale). At a mall or a chain store you know what to expect. At these independent stores, you don’t. They’re unique. But it can also be intimidating and a little uncomfortable to head in to an unfamiliar store for the first time.
So I jumped on the chance to visit these stores with a group of people from the neighbourhood (including Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon, in whose ward this stretch resides). One woman had lived in the area for 15 years and answered my burning questions before I even asked them. As we passed shops with decrepit signage and hand-written pricing on the walls in a language I don’t read, she pointed out the hole-in-the-wall shops that are actually some of the city’s best-kept secrets.
Why hadn’t I ever just gone down and popped in these stores myself, pointed at a menu item at random and tried it out? Or asked about uses for kitchen utensils I had never seen before? I’m not a shy person last time I checked. Whatever the reason may be, going with a group of people, some who knew the area very well, made me excited to chat with the owners and even more excited to come back and patronize their businesses.
And that was the main part of the walk. Yes, it was lovely to meet new people from the neighbourhood. And yes, it was great to get to know what sort of things these stores I pass on my commute daily actually offer.
But most importantly, it was about encouraging us to support these shops with our business.
If you’re in Toronto, venture east to Gerrard India Bazaar/Little India. I know, I know. It’s east of the Don River (a geographic divide that seems to intimidate everyone west of it). The 506 Carleton Streetcar takes you right through it.
Yes, the storefronts aren’t all that glitzy. And there are reasons for that and there are people trying to improve the neighbourhood. I for one am incredibly stoked for the upcoming opening of Gerrard Art Space. But for now, look beyond the singage and get ready to feast your eyes and appetites.
I Instagrammed my way through the tour – here are some of the pics I took: