In 1970, when business was fading on a west Toronto main street, the business people in the community decided to take action. They formed an association, and used their own money to improve the street and promote the area. Their work helped the street become – and remain – a popular shopping destination. That was the start of Toronto’s first Business Improvement Area, Bloor West Village.
WHERE IT BEGAN
The story begins in 1967 when the Bloor-Danforth subway line was completed and many shoppers who formerly traveled along the surface on Bloor Street in streetcars began disappearing underground.
To add to the problems facing neighbourhood retailers, a proliferation of shopping malls had sprung up on the outskirts of the city around the same time. These merchandising meccas offered enticing shops with a wondrous array of products and services all under the same roof, year-round climate-control and acres of free parking. This literally led thousands of shoppers to forsake their traditional shopping habits, pile into their cars and motor out to the malls.
As a result, some merchants were forced to close their shops and, in some instances, follow the crowds to the malls. Vacancies resulted and many local shopping areas began to look run down and seemed doomed to oblivion.
Many business people who remained in their business strips reacted by attempting to form business associations – and spent a great deal of their time and effort going from door-to-door soliciting voluntary donations for local improvements and area promotions. One problem they often encountered was that only a few businesses in each block were willing to contribute. These associations frequently found themselves with insufficient funds and support to make any difference.
Out of sheer frustration, a group of businessmen in the west end of Toronto, along Bloor Street West, went to City Hall and the Province seeking legislation that would compel all businesses within a designated area to pay a levy for the purpose of revitalizing their business strip through physical improvements and promotional activities. The levy would be collected by the City and turned over to the elected Board of Management to be used as budgeted. After some persuasion, the idea was finally adopted and the Business Improvement Area (BIA) legislation was enacted, and became Section 217 of the Municipal Act.
Bloor West Village became the pioneer of the BIA concept and was designated as the first BIA in 1970!
In 1970, during the beginning of the BIA, there were only 275 merchants, professionals and services along both sites 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. and the money was spent mostly on physical improvements. The transformation was dramatic. The lighted trees sparkled, there were colorful flower boxes and the benches made shopping inviting. With the continuation of the beautification program and the added area promotions over the years, the shoppers began to flock back to Bloor West Village. A used car lot and gasoline stations have been redeveloped into retail stores with residential and office units above. A medical complex was built on the site of an abandoned streetcar turn-around at Bloor and Jane. A number of other building developments and restorations followed, making Bloor West Village vibrant and a safe environment to live, work, shop and raise a family.
The success of Bloor West Village encouraged other communities. Now Toronto has more than 85 BIAs and the number continues to grow!
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