Danforth Decline? Doubt It

After you read this story from Saturday’s Toronto Star, you may feel inclined to write a letter to the editor at lettertoed@thestar.ca.

Danforth’s decline: Drugs, prostitutes now in the open

November 14, 2009

Robyn Doolittle

A trip to the Danforth for many means niche boutique shopping in Greektown, a wine list at lunch and a Starbucks for the ride home. Three subway stops east, at Coxwell, the streetscape has changed.

Trendy eateries are replaced with fast-food restaurants. Parking lots and sterile storefronts hopscotch one another down the Danforth drag. And the further you go, the more it slides.

The kitsch of Greektown dries up at Jones Ave. Pass Donlands. An auto shop. A fried chicken joint. A funeral parlour. Coxwell is the dividing line.

By Main Street, bars on shop windows, payday loan stores and dingy pubs are the norm. Drifters who have been turned away from the local shelter sleep in long alleyways. Dealers work out of side-street crack houses. Prostitutes walk the Victoria Park strip.

It’s only getting worse. In the last three years, the drugs and street workers moved into the open. Deals that used to go down in the back of grimy Internet cafes now happen in broad daylight. Prostitutes moved out of rub-and-tugs and onto street corners.

Now, the crime has seeped west.

Last week, a known gang member was fatally shot in the face on a residential street just west of Pape, in the heart of gentrified Greektown. Police are still trying to determine what 27-year-old Theo Tiku was doing in the quiet family neighbourhood. It may have been a blip, but it was enough to send shock waves through the community.

Residents and police are pushing back.

“There has been a general decline in the (east end of Danforth),” said Det. Christopher Higgins of 54 division’s major crime unit. “So we’re being very proactive with our enforcement.”

In the last year, Higgins and his team have been going after drug fronts, johns and rub-and-tug parlours. In October, police rounded up 70 johns. In March they netted 57. Last fall, 21.

“That doesn’t necessarily mean there’s more, just that we’re getting better at catching them,” said Higgins.

Police have partnered with Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario to ensure local bars – predominantly those that hawk $2.50 pints – are following the rules.

Faced with a graffiti explosion, the Danforth Business Improvement Area hired Scarborough-based Goodbye Graffiti to remove sprayings as they happen.

“We call it the cockroach effect. Graffiti attracts more graffiti,” said John Kalimeris, the company’s managing director. “If you’re victimized and you clean it up, it may come back. But if you don’t, your neighbour gets it and it will just continue to spread.

“There’s an implied threat, when people see graffiti, that there are undesirables in the neighbourhood. People will shop at the big box stores instead. People think: `If you aren’t cleaning your walls, are you cleaning your store. Are you cleaning the kitchen?'”

Abubakar Siddique runs a struggling, 10-year-old clothing shop near Victoria Park. He pines for quieter days.

“Customers don’t come into the store because the homeless people are standing out front. I don’t blame them. It’s not their fault. But they walk around swearing or whatnot and people don’t come in.”

Two weeks ago, a woman scooped up a bunch of clothes, headed to the dressing room, then came out naked, suggesting a trade. There are break-ins in the area – mainly junkies trying to support a habit.

Siddique isn’t the only one hoping to resurrect the Danforth of the past. Three years ago, a group of families and professionals formed the Danforth East Community Association. They’ve been knocking on storefronts in need of TLC. Eight have been revamped so far.

Concerned about drug dealers in East Lynn Park, the group campaigned to get families out and about. They held movie nights and square dances. Two years ago, Alison McMurray spearheaded what has become a popular farmer’s market in the reclaimed space.

“Even a little thing like revitalizing the park, when you’ve got so many mommies and daddies with strollers everywhere, that isn’t really a comfortable place to do your drug deals. I’m not saying we’ve got ridden of it, but we’ve pushed it out of the area,” said McMurray.

In the 1950s, before the arrival of the subway, the wide sidewalks of the east end created a walking neighbourhood. Once people went underground, foot traffic dried up and shops closed. With rents declining, landlords were less picky with retailers. The clientele went next. And the cycle continued.

McMurray has hope. “I think there is slowly becoming a return to that age. Where you come to the Danforth to walk and shop and eat and spend time with friends. That’s what our group is trying to do.”

0 comments to “Danforth Decline? Doubt It”
  1. With the Toronto Star, it all depends on who is writing the article. This same newspaper has published other articles highlighting the gradual but definite gentrification occuring between Greenwood and Main, and now all of the sudden the area is in decline? The Danforth described in this article sounds more to me like the Danforth of about ten years ago. Yes, the area west of Main is dodgy and will remain so for quite some time. But to place the dividing line for the more desirable strech of the street at Coxwell is simply not true. There are three very distinct sections on the Danforth, and while our stretch still has some room for improvement, it has much more in common with the stretch west of Pape than it does with the area east of Main.

  2. Although unfavourable, the article is not completely untrue. It would have been nice if it did emphasize a little more on some of the revitalisation. However, there has been quite a bit of increase in break-ins, petty crime and prostitutes coming out of the alleys and onto the streets. My neighbour said that his kids (18 and 16) have been approached by prostitutes while walking on Danforth.

    I actually hope this wakes up the residents that have been pulling the wool over their eyes to come out and be more vigilant. I would like to see our neighbourhood continue to prosper but we all need to be each others eyes and ears. Let’s all do our part to nip this in the bud. If you see any suspicious activity, report it!

  3. We need not be concerned about reports such as this one. Let’s use it as a bench mark for future improvements. We should ask ourselves, “What do we want our city newspaper to say about us in five years?” then make it happen.

  4. This article is damaging to this community. We should be pushing back. Maybe a coordinated effort by DECA and the Mosaic BIA to contact the Star’s editor and rectify this smear piece is in order?

  5. Carrie:
    Don’t shoot the messenger. It’s not the Star’s fault. It’s ours for not taking better care of our neighbourhood. It’s not a smear if it is the truth. Let’s improve the truth and invite the same reporter back in five years.

  6. Touche Rob Koci.

    For me, the saddest part of about the stretch between Coxwell and Woodbine is all the empty storefronts. DECA does a great job of telling us about new shops opening up, but so many are still closing (for some, though, there are no tears shed).

    I know we won’t be getting a Starbucks any day in our neighbourhood, but what about a Second Cup, Timothy’s or even a full-fledged Ttim Horton’s?

    Check out this study:

    More Coffee, Less Murder: The Influence of Gentrification on Neighborhood
    Homicide Rates in Chicago, 1991 to 2005

  7. There appears to be different views regarding our neighbourhood. I have personally never seen or been approached by a prostitute, and have never felt unsafe walking around our area, but will acknowledge that there is definately room for improvement. The best way to improve our neighbourhood is simply to be out there. We all need to shop on the Danforth, and support our local businesses. There are too many local residents who drive down to the Beaches, or Greektown, or the big box stores on Eglinton E, and rarely, if ever, shop our stretch of the Danforth. Even if it costs a bit more, we need to make a concerted effort to support our local businesses.
    The best way to rid our area of the less desirable folks and businesses is to report any suspicious activity we see to the police, and to be out on the street supporting our local community. By doing this, there is a very good chance that any troublemakers or questionable businesses will simply move to other areas where there is less scrutiny. This has been proven over and over in other gentrified areas within Toronto. The key, however, is full neighbourhood support, and we don’t quite have that yet.

  8. I love this neighbourhood and grew up here. Although there are a few really shady spots, it is not at all as bad as the article is making it out to be. It is tough to pick one part of the story that had me the most upset but I would have to go with the insinuation that Danforth east has moved west and that is why there was a shooting in Greektown. The guy was from Regent Park and has nothing to do with us.

    This article has received a lot of attention which means the reporter did her job. I just find some of the so-called facts funny as I cannot remember the last time I could find a beer for $2.50, and I never have a hard time finding a nice restaurant with wine as a beverage option in our neighbourhood. We have a lot of terrific places to go and yes they are well east of Pape Avenue.

    Change takes time but we are all working hard to make this area better than it already is.

  9. The perspective is subjective. I live east of Main and personally find the area much nicer and safer then some stretches west of Main. At least when I walk home from the subway station there are always friendly people around. I realize the stores do not look particularly impressive, but hey, neither do some store fronts west of Woodbine or Greenwood. According to the police statistics I got from our BIA (Danforth Village) our area is actually much safer than the parts closer to Jones etc.
    I am writing this because I got tired of people putting the mythical “frontier” on Main St and treating the Main-Victoria area as the Wild East of Toronto. Instead of spreading the myths take a walk in Dentonia Park or along the Danforth east of Dawes. It is much nicer than some people claim it is.
    The person who wrote the article for the Star obviously has no clue what is going on in the hood. Just because there are some hookers around doesn’t mean it is a crime ridden shantytown. Yet another piece of journalism to convince people to stick to the Western part of Toronto or, ideally, move to the suburbs. And you know what, maybe it is not so bad after all. I don’t wanna see another Riverdale in my neighbourhood.

    BTW. There are more and more young families like us moving in so the change is not far away.

  10. Rob,

    You may have a negative view of our neighborhood but I don’t. The article states: “Trendy eateries are replaced with fast-food restaurants. Parking lots and sterile storefronts hopscotch one another down the Danforth drag. And the further you go, the more it slides.” which is a complete untruth and patent fabrication. If the author had really ventured toward Woodbine from Coxwell, she would have noticed that the strip really starts picking up east of Woodington. People take great care of this neighborhood, as evidenced by the East Lynn grass cutting and clean up this past summer. I guess you see it half empty, I see it haslf full.

  11. Carrie:
    I love our neighbourhood. But I also appreciate the third party perspective that the Star offers, however bad it is. It helps us see ourselves better.

    Saying the neighbourhood is wonderful or not wonderful does not make it so, and complaining to the Star about an article will not improve the preception or the facts on the ground.

    Agreed. Improvement starts with support of local business. But it is a chicken and egg thing. Residents have to support business, but business has to offer good service, good pricing and excellent products. They need to ask us what we need as much as we need to support them.

    I am the first in line to see that happen.

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  13. Hey, Angela, re. coffee shops, check out True Brew Cafe just east of Woodbine (http://truebrewcafe.blogspot.com/). It’s been open for a while. Other good coffee places have opened in the past year, too. And thankfully, none of them belong to characterless mega global chains like Starbucks.

  14. Hi All,

    When my children were small (they’re all grown now) I did not take them to East Lynn Park. I didn’t go south of Danforth. I wasn’t comfortable. I did shop at the Le Chateau outlet and BiWay at Woodbine and Danforth, but after their departure there was nothing left except Royal Beef that drew me to my stretch of the street.

    My sister was here visiting this past summer with her 2 year old. I was concerned to hear that she had taken the baby to East Lynn Park. She gave me a funny look and suggested I look again – it was just a lovely park and a lovely area.

    I have since walked all through that area, admiring the beautiful yards and homes and wondering when all this happened. I discovered the farmer’s market, the ice cream store, the renewed shop fronts, and I discovered DECA.

    I came to this area 20 years ago because of reasonable prices, decent housing stock, and true convenience to downtown. I stayed all this time because I found it was a welcoming neighbourhood with good people. It just didn’t show so much on the Danforth.

    The good neighbours are still here and, I believe, multiplying. Now I also see some blossoming store fronts, some actually pretty good restaurants, and some real potential for continued improvement. I watched this stretch dip and now I truly believe I am watching it come back.

    And I believe I owe it to people like the DECA members who worked so hard to take back the park, reignite their neighbourhood, and work to rejuvenate the Danforth.

    Leo, I think with the old chickens like me coming out of our preconceptions, coming back onto the street, and back into the local stores we have good potential to see your eggs hatch :-)

  15. A great discussion!

    Just want to add two things: it looks like the Hollywood Canteen is moving eastwards (if the sign in the storefront near the electric bike store is true).

    And here’s an example of why there may be so many closed stores that never open up again. My barber had been cutting hair since 1964 in the same location. He did have some health issues and was close to retirement anyway, but when the landlord jacked up his rent, he packed it in.

    But the shop has now been closed for over two years. Hmmm….I often ask myself: how can a landlord make MORE money with an empty storefront than with a paying tenant? You still need to pay tax, pay for some upkeep (well, not always, but you do need to heat the place in case pipes burst).

  16. It’s not just the Danforth that’s in decline; have you noticed the constant store closures in the neighbouring Beach?

    Entrepreneurs/small business owners are competing with ‘Walmart’ and Costco and online retailers; they sell underwear, books, toys, groceries, flowers, at ridiculously low prices. I’ve heard tons of people say ‘I don’t want to shop at Walmart, but I have no choice; we can’t afford not to shop there’.

    I know mothers who’d rather buy ‘not quite perfect’ yet ‘new’ clothes from Land’s End than second hand from our local shops.

    Local business owners who want to thrive in this new era need to focus on customer service, competitive prices and be open 7 days a week with extended hours. Wallace who owns Beaches Natural on Queen East follows this model to a T, and his store is jam packed with customers. He’s not closing his doors any time soon.

  17. As local business owners that have recently invested our time, effort and money into opening a local ‘Mom and Pop’ shop in the hopes of adding something positive to our neighbourhood it’s easy to see the great things that go on here. We wouldn’t have done that if we viewed this area in the dire light that was cast in the Star article.

    It is also quite clear that there are less than desirable activities going on and it would be idealistic to think otherwise. As a community we need to make the landscape busier by shopping, walking and investing in our stretch of the Danforth. In that way we may see less of the drug traffickers and massage parlours being comfortable plying thier trades.

    Illegal activities go on everywhere, not just here and just as the park being busier with families and The Farmers Market has made a difference. Making the streetscape a more desirable place to do your shopping or open a business should have the same effect by having more residents out and about.

    Having lived here for almost 20 years and watching the improvements it can only be encouraging to see new businesses hanging out a shingle and trying to make this a shopping destination for locals and not so locals alike.

    This is a great place to live and to do business. We meet new families who have decided to make this community thier home as well as our regulars who have been here for years and wouldn’t live anywhere else.

    Ruth Heathcote
    Wag on the Danforth

  18. Clearly the person who wrote the article didn’t actually step foot on this stretch of the Danforth. If she had come on a Saturday or on a Thursday during the summer, she would have seen hundreds of familys enjoying the area and parks (not parking lots).

    To go one step further, and I’m not sure everyone would agree with me-perhaps the condo in “The Big Hole” would be a good thing–more people out and about shopping at local stores and supporting local farmers :)

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  21. Sorry, Carrie, I’d have to go with Rob on this one. I see about two eateries along the stretch from Coxwell to Woodbine that look great. The rest, not so much. And the slide as you go east is patent fabrication? Methinks you doth protest too much.

  22. I’ve lived at Woodbine and Danforth for year now (was at Queen and Woodbine previously) and quite miss being able to walk to nice shops from my house, but, to be honest I don’t feel particularly unsafe.

    We’re smack dab in the middle of two marvelous areas (which is partly why I moved here, since I couldn’t afford to purchase in the others), but this does create a challenge for growth. We’ll never be the Beach or Greektown, but, I do believe that we certainly can be better. It will just take time because making the effort to shop in the area when there are only a couple of decent stores probably doesn’t seem worth it to most people – even though it should!

    I am desperate for this area could find it’s unique personality because like I said, I miss being able to walk to restaurants or stores. BUT, I do see hope! There’s that wonderful bulk store that opened up a couple of months ago and that lovely white restaurant with the red lights all year round. Plus, the people who own some of the less exciting stores are so kind and provide decent quality.

    More of us need to have a vision and need to go to the Mosaic BIA for the resources and help to bring that vision to life! Even if 5 of us had a great idea and the BIA helped us out with it, we could do amazing things!

    BTW – Being poor or a prostitute doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. In some cases, people in gangs probably aren’t bad people either. It just means that people are misguided, lost, and desperate. As a society (and I am thinking of everyone from us to the government) should be doing more to make sure that decent people don’t end up on the wrong path. There are of course a group of people that would end up their regardless, but, I like to believe that there are fewer of those kind of people in the world.

  23. Disclosure first: I’m a real estate agent who works in the central and east sections of Toronto and I live at Danforth and Logan.

    I grew up in North Toronto and went to North Toronto Collegiate (where, by the way, we were all shocked by a shooting death at a Yonge and Eglinton bar and where the very dodgey strip club “Cheaters” only closed within the last couple of years). When I first moved to the east end over 25 years ago, my mother actually said to me: “We spent six generations scrabbling our way out of the east end and you’re moving back?” She was joking — but only half joking. There is a real and persistent prejudice in mid-town about anything east of the valley and that includes Riverdale/Greektown, the Beach, and the other well-gentrified areas of the east end. Despite what people in the Beach seem to think, I believe many people in mid-town (Summerhill, Moore Park, Leaside, North Toronto, etc.) look down their noses at the east end as too far away and not sufficiently homogeneous (read: patchy and scary). I have friends who I seriously believe think I’m quirky for living here. I’d wager five bucks that the author of this piece is a young journalist renting near Yonge and Eglinton and still hoping to buy there — but that’s just my own prejudice, though the first paragraph suggests she has to cross the bridge to come to the east end.

    In fact, throughout the western hemisphere, the east end of most older major cities is, or has been, considered “working class” or even dangerous. Apparently, this has to do with prevailing winds blowing smoke from 19th century factories toward the east end of these cities, thus making the affected areas much less desirable. That may be an old myth, but it seems to hold up. Whatever the case, as property values in the central portions of the city rise to a point unaffordable for most people, areas like Leslieville (where I used to take clients kicking and screaming 15 years ago) become more and more appealing. The good news is that unlike some areas of the city, there’s really very little in the east end that presents a long term obstacle to revitalization. The housing stock is great, the transportation is great, the streets are tree-lined and lovely, and the core of people already living here are wonderful. So, at the risk of sounding crass, the potential for growth in real estate values is huge. I actually enjoy seeing articles like this. Anyone who lives and/or works in the east end knows that articles such as these are just the work of one individual (overseen perhaps by a similarly minded editor) and really only serve to demonstrate that individual’s prejudices.

    When I lived on Barrington, there was a shooting there; now I live on Logan and we had the shooting (reported in the piece) on Gough awhile back. These things happen throughout the city. There are some dodgy looking folks in the parkettes near my house at night sometimes. But there are also people walking dogs and decent kids from the neighbourhood just hanging out. Overall, what I’m seeing in my work is hundreds and hundreds of nice young couples and families moving into these neighbourhoods and I predict nothing but a bright future for Danforth east. You just have to look at the east end blogs popping up (like this one and East End Pioneer) to see how interested people are in improving their already very appealing east end streets.

    Oh, and one more thing (sorry for the essay): I’ve said for years that when it comes to real estate, the Star always seems to be reporting “news” that’s anywhere from one to five years old. :)

  24. Hi Kris,

    Nice to ready a good comment on the matter, I’m doing some research in the area (Dentonia Park Ave) as I’m planning on buying a house there and I don’t personally know the area and would like to get some information from people that live in the area. As a woman that likes to go out and use the subway even late at night I don’t want to make false assumptions by reading some false or misleading news on the paper, I rather getting the point of view of a person that lives there. Can I assume by reading your comment that the area is safe for a single woman to walk by the park even at night time from Victoria Park subway st?

    Please let me know

  25. Everybody here who is bashing this article is part of the problem.. dont push these problems under the carpet, let it be known and if it reaches people maybe they will decide to do something about it.. anywhere east of donlands is bad.. there’s no denying it.. ask the youth that live in that area and they will tell you how bad it ACTUALLY is. At woodbine and danforth they are doing a great job at cracking down on drug dealing and the gritty look of the main danforth strip. Take that neighbourhood as an example and do what you can.

  26. Funny – until you get rid of the old guard in the area who cannot afford higher end products, higher end stores and restaurants will not open. Simple economics and demographics.

    Wonder why a Starbuck’s hasn’t opened or other type of boutique stores? They do demographic studies and see what is in the area to support!

    And please – whoever establishes that Relish or Melanie’s Bistro is a cause for celebration has no palate or experience of what high end quality food actually is. Try Canoe, Splendido’s, North44 etc… and then see what real food is like. Not saying the area needs a place like that, but it again shoes the type of people who are here.
    It is a shame that people are so idealistic and have their head in the sand that they are rationalizing that this is a good area.
    We are considering selling our house because after 5 years, nothing changed and we are thinking of starting a family. Calling a spade a spade – the area has too much of a demographic that will not evolve for another generation and as such, you will not see the rapid change until that occurs.

    Truth hurts, but reality exists.

  27. Your own reality perhaps but please do not presume that it is everyone’s.

    I wonder how you propose ‘getting rid’ of the ‘old guard’. Who do you mean exactly? The elderly who have lived here for years in their family homes? Those who cannot afford higher end stores and restaurants should be run out of town for the greater good of a Starbucks or boutique?

    My husband and I have been in this community for 20 years and are raising our family here and have seen huge changes since we moved to this part of the Danforth. We have opened our business here and see others doing the same and have been welcomed by a community that is in a positive transition.

    I understand that you have your view of this neighbourhood and may have good reason to feel disheartened by the slow turn of the tide. Perhaps you have run into undesirables up on the Danforth while you walk home or had some other negative experience.

    You are likely tired of the empty storefronts and some of the more depressing landscapes along the road but for the most part I can say without a doubt that I see change every day around here and I am up there every day for at least 9 hours with a big window on the street at large.

    I meet new people moving into the community; see them with their children and their dogs coming into our shop and you can feel it too. People like it here, they like our parks, they like their neighbours, they like our schools and our market. This is a good place to be and to raise your kids.

    Relish and Melanie’s are good places to eat and their full tables are a testament to the enjoyment of their patrons, if you want ‘high end’ you go downtown, this is neighbourhood.

    My head is far from in the sand and I have to say that while you may think that you are telling it like it is I think you are being short sighted and not giving the area enough of a chance to evolve. However if you don’t have the time or patience to wait it out I hope you have the money to afford where you do want to go and find the perfect place that suits your needs better.

    When it comes to a real neighbourhood I would much prefer the authenticity of a Seb’s Cappuccino to a Starbuck’s and I won’t have to take out a loan to get one. I can go to Royal Beef and pick up a great piece of Tri-tip for dinner, get my fabulous free-range eggs from Better Bulk and a delicious loaf of challah bread from the ladies at Cozy Cafe and Bakery as well as anything else I might need to complete my shopping list along this strip of the Danforth.

    I can only speak for myself but that is my reality.

  28. Interesting…

    So – old guard – not the seniors per se that are there but rather those people who are not able to support a gentrification of the area. You need more young professionals, or entrepreneurs such as yourself in the area. Unfortunately, there are too many people that do not fit into that category (read create little to no value in the economy and with a low household income as a result of being uneducated and mostly actually lacking of ambition – have a look at the demographic study for St. Brigid’s done by the school board!), and then the younger professionals leave in some cases. So, until you get rid of the type of people that are not able to support a higher end neighborhood, things will not change.

    That’s great you have been there for 20 years. Not my problem. It will be another 20 before a marked increase in the incomes in the area increase. Again, this will be done by people moving out and a higher end demographic moving in. However, chances of that happening are very slim in the near future.

    You can walk anywhere on the Danforth past Pape quite frankly and things are noticeably different. To think they are not problematic gives me the impression of a leftist/idealist approach and is indeed in the sand. You probably hate people that drive Mercedes-Benz’s and BMW’s and Jaguar’s. Fair enough, but usually that is because no one has been ambitious enough to strive for those things anyway.

    Depressing storefronts? Ha – that is an understatement.

    People are moving into the community indeed as it is still an affordable area. Ever wonder why that is? Now we just started to see the light and unfortunately the tunnel is a long one!

    Relish and Melanie’s – now for the area, you are right that they are busy and are a ‘neighborhood’ place. But that only speaks to geography, not quality. The service at Relish is very low-end and the food is mediocre at best. The arrogance with with they operate is a joke. And Melanie’s? Ha – what an uninviting atmosphere. And the way people rave about these places again shows a general lack of experience as to what better quality dining is all about. And dinner for 2 at Relish is not 40$ either. Keep that in mind.

    I have given it a chance and yes, I am lucky that I have been successful the last couple years to realize that this is not a healthy environment to exist, surrounded by people who look down on you because you drive an expensive European automobile. Talk about hypocrisy!

    Royal Beef is amazing. I give 100% credit where credit is due. The steaks and the staff there are exactly what one would want. It’s just too bad that it is a diamond in the rough. Your store as well is a nice one, though I do not own a pet, I can still appreciate seeing something that is not another nail salon, scuzzy bar, low-end eatery or coffee shop.

    And the fact that you do not want a Starbucks is indeed an anti-establishment view which is commonly associated with people who are left-wing in their political bent and do not celebrate the free market nor success. If you cannot afford it, then do not go there and do not expect those of us that can afford it to want to support lower quality product in the area because of a sense of community.

    So, remember what will make the difference in an area…

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