In 1970, business was fading on a west Toronto main street. Glossy new shopping malls were opening across Canada. And the small mom-and-pop businesses that had been at the heart of Bloor West for so long were struggling to keep their doors open.
To protect their livelihoods, the local business community began to draw up plans to bring locals and visitors back to their stores. They hung up string lights from the trees, planted flowers, and began to market the local area. Their hard work helped the street become – and remain – one of Toronto’s most popular shopping, leisure, and beauty destinations. This was the start of Toronto’s first Business Improvement Area – Bloor West Village.
*Illustration above with permission of David Crighton, a renowned Toronto artist.
WHERE IT BEGAN
The story begins in 1967. The Bloor-Danforth subway line had just been built. And the shoppers that used to travel Bloor Street in streetcars began heading into the city on the new underground.
Shopping malls had begun to spring up on the outskirts of the city. These towering merchandising meccas offered a glittering selection of cosmetics, toys, homewares, and fashion. Neighbourhood residents ditched their old shopping habits – heading straight for the malls. But this meant bad news for local businesses.
Closing their shutters
Many merchants closed their shops. Vacancies began to spike. And local stores looked like they were heading for oblivion.
To try and save their businesses, some owners set up business associations. They went door-to-door to ask for donations to help fund local improvements and marketing. The problem? Only a handful of businesses in each block wanted to add to the collection. Frustration began to build as store owners could barely afford to make any repairs or fund local marketing campaigns.
Getting the City involved
Out of sheer frustration, a group of businessmen along Bloor Street West decided to take the matter to City Hall and the Province. They sought legislation that would compel all businesses within the area to pay a levy to help support the local community. They argued that this money should be used to help makeover the local streets and to fund promotional events to attract new business.
The City would collect the levy and turn it over to the elected Board of Management to help support the local community. After some persuasion, the city finally agreed to adopt the proposal. The Business Improvement Area (BIA) legislation was enacted – becoming Section 217 of the Municipal Act. On this day, Bloor West Village became a pioneer of the BIA concept and in 1970, was named the first ever BIA.
The changing face of Bloor Street West
During the early days of the BIA, there were only 275 merchants, professionals and services along both sides of Bloor Street West, between South Kingsway to the west and Glendonwynne Road to the east. one kilometre long. Besides the numerous vacant stores, there was a used car lot taking up the whole block on the north side of Bloor Street, between Glendonwynne Road and Kennedy Avenue, bare light bulbs were strung across the entire block. On the south side of the street, there were six gasoline stations. At Bloor and Jane, there was the abandoned streetcar turn-around, end of the streetcar line, empty and dirty.
For the first year, the Bloor West Village BIA members voted themselves a budget of $47,500. They spent the money on making over the streets and storefronts – and the transformation was dramatic! The trees were lit by the ambient glitter of string lights, brightly-hued flower boxes warmed up the streetscape, and the new benches made a long shopping day seem inviting.
As store owners continued to makeover the streets and fund local promotions, crowds of shoppers began to return to Bloor West Village. The community transformed a used car lot and gasoline stations into retail stores with residential and office units above. They built a medical complex on the site of an abandoned streetcar turn-around at Bloor and Jane. They followed with a number of building developments and restorations followed – making Bloor West Village a vibrant and welcoming place to live, work, shop and raise a family.
The success of Bloor West Village has inspired dozens of similar communities. Toronto now has over 85 BIAs (and counting)!
SELF-CARE THE DAY AWAY
Catch up with friends over some hearty Italian comfort food at Queen’s Learn more
A FAMILY ADVENTURE
Fresh OJ, airy pancakes, and bacon stacks — start your day with breakfast at the buzzy Sunshine Village Grill. Learn more