DECA’s Veteran Drivers, Scene 7

Anita Schretlen was DECA’s chair for three long years. She was pushed into it. Our founding chair, Natasha Granatstein, had asked for someone to share the role with her and finally, Anita agreed to. (She’d only been on the board for a year then.)

A couple months later, Natasha abandoned ship! She was too burnt out. And Anita would soon discover why. Being DECA’s chair, when this little organization started a decade ago, involved hosting an annual all-candidates’ debate, and inviting people to your house to drink wine and dream collaboratively about the fun we could have in this neighborhood.

Suddenly, DECA had become an empire. There was the farmers’ market, the arts fair, the garage sale, pumpkin walk, winter festival, Art on the Danforth, the pop-up projects…

By the time she stepped down as chair last November, Anita was logging 15 hours a week — answering emails, reading proposals, talking to councillors and board members, interviewing prospective pop-up tenants, chairing meetings, discussing DECA’s work with university professors studying our area, giving press interviews….

No one wanted to talk over. We were all too intimidated, by both the amount of work involved, and Anita’s legacy. You cannot find a calmer captain in a hurricane. Anita is balanced, thoughtful, wise, and truly unflappable. And she is kind.

Finally, when it looked like we were going to have to rotate the chair position, month by month, Sheri stepped forward. Phew! (We divided some of the work, so she won’t burn out — hopefully.) And then, Anita agreed to take over as DECA’s treasurer.

And through all this, you might not have met Anita. She’s fairly shy, and she doesn’t talk about herself much. Only recently did I learn she grew up in Elliot Lake! So when you do see her on the street, make a point of asking her questions.

Here is the brilliant and beautiful ANITA SCHRETLEN, in her own words….

Anita Schretlen and Houman, the owner of Bella Lite (1989 Danforth Ave.)
Anita Schretlen and Houman, the owner of Bella Lite (1989 Danforth Ave.)

My name and age is…
Anita Schretlen, 43

One thing people don’t know about me is…
I’m often seen around the neighbourhood at odd hours, so I get asked a lot if DECA is my job. That would be lovely, but unfortunately not the case. I actually work from home for a small artisanal leather goods company, Rimanchik, doing anything and everything business-related. Being part of a small business, I really see firsthand the impact that individual shopping decisions have on the livelihoods of these businesses and business owners. I think it’s for this reason that much of my focus with DECA has been on supporting the small businesses in our ‘hood.

I moved to Danforth East … 

In 2009. We had been renting in the Chaplin Estates area, which was beautiful, but we were expecting our second child and needed a bigger space. We were very methodical about our house hunt, circling areas on the map that fit all our criteria — good schools, nearby daycares, proximity to the subway, etc. We actually didn’t know anything about this neighbourhood but it was one of only 2 areas in Toronto that had everything we were looking for. Once we got here, it didn’t take us long to realize what a great decision it had been, but not for the objective criteria we had been trying to measure.

The thing I love most about Danforth East is…

The great feeling of community we have. I’m not from Toronto, and never really felt at home here until we moved to this neighbourhood. It’s the most community-minded and down-to-earth place I’ve lived in in the city. I love that we are always bumping into friends on the street and the shopkeepers know us by name.

One change I’ve seen over the years….  

Our stretch of the Danforth is becoming more and more interesting every year! Even just 5 years ago, there was barely a place to stop for coffee. On mat leave, I used to walk my stroller all the way to Greektown just for some signs of life. Now, we have tons of great new shops, restaurants and bars, gyms and other services. But despite all the changes, the original character of the ‘hood still shines through, which I love.

My advice to new neighbours is… 

A great way to meet your neighbours is to join DECA! Come out to our meetings, volunteer for an event, get involved. I have met so many great people and made some really wonderful friends, all while helping to improve my own neighbourhood.

My biggest local pet peeve is…

Businesses and property owners that do not upkeep their space. It’s their private property, but it’s our public space and letting it go brings down the whole commercial stretch. The vacant property tax rebate also has a negative effect on our area, by rewarding property owners for keeping their spaces vacant, This is something we are trying to change through our pop-up shop project, but it’s a long slog.

My neighborhood secret is… 

A few months ago, I joined a handful of friends for dinner at Stock in Trade (1272 Danforth Ave), a butcher near Greenwood. It was an amazing night – held after hours, a table set right in the middle of the space and a delicious multi-course meal featuring their quality meats and seasonal produce.  With such an intimate setting, personable service and top-notch food prepared just for us, it really did feel like a well-kept secret. And, did I mention it is BYOB, with no corkage? I highly recommend it, the Stock in Trade Supper Club.

The place I go in DECA’s stomping grounds that you’ve likely never frequented is…

Bella Lite. Granted, it’s not every day that you need a light fixture. But when you do, Bella Lite is the place to go! Houman, the owner, is so friendly and knowledgeable and has a huge selection (don’t let the small storefront fool you, he has access to everything from the most basic fixture to the fanciest chandeliers), including the ability to custom-make items. Prices are very competitive. It’s been a while since I needed a fixture, but the last time I did, Houman and his wife even delivered it to my doorstep when they realized I was planning to walk home with it.

The thing I’ve done as a DECA board member that makes me most proud is…

I was lucky enough to chair the DECA Board for about three years. It is a truly motivated and inspirational team to be working with. During this time, we grew fairly significantly in terms of our initiatives and our reach and I am proud to have played a hand in that.

I’ve also been a founding member of our East Danforth renewal team, the group that has been working to fill empty storefronts with pop-up shops and otherwise revitalize our commercial strip. It’s been a ton of work, but it’s been very rewarding to see our vacant storefronts slowly filling up, our streetscape beginning to change and several of our participating entrepreneurs continue on as permanent businesses.

My final word….

An easy way to help revitalize our area is to commit to shopping local when you can. There are so many benefits to this simple act, from keeping dollars within our community to protecting our local character and diversity of businesses. You can read more about it here

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