Shaw and Yarmouth, Toronto
In Toronto, you know when you've come across something unusual. Much of the city is built on a grid pattern and your brain becomes used to more subtle patterns in the form of the city, even after being a resident for only a short period of time. So when you come across something that strikes you as unusual, there is likely a story behind it.
Recently, I got a folding bicycle (which finally makes me a card carrying member of club Toronto). The size of bikes has always been a bit prohibitive given the size of my apartment in the city, so the folding bike is a welcome form factor.
On my first day out, I decided to use my newfound freedom to explore somewhere new. I took a trip North of Bloor, officially beyond that line of demarcation between downtown and midtown, and into parts with which I am less familiar.
I didn't even get very far before being struck by my first surprise. A corner cafe located deep in a residential block with a great wrap around patio. When walking the blocks south of Bloor you get used to repeating patterns of businesses on streets like Dundas, Queen and College, Spadina, Bathurst and Ossington and leafy residential streets creating a latticework of stable residential neighbourhoods. The exceptions to this pattern often cluster and have neat names that bring with them the idea of a historical mix of uses like Kensington Market, Baldwin Village and Harbord Village. And here, all on its own was a corner cafe with patio and all.
Currently on this corner is Contra Coffee, a great and wonderful spot frequented by (on this particular day) families on a day out and young people trying to get some work done. The street has parking but in my time people-watching, everyone arrived via bike or on foot.
So how did this anomaly come to be? Not easily apparently. The address permits commercial use. Before its life as a cafe, 1028 Shaw Street was home to the Shaw Town Shop Variety Store. Many Toronto neighbourhoods have corner shops like this one. It was when Hub Coffee House & Locavorium took over the property and attempted to open a patio that things became interesting. The original patio application for the cafe on this corner was rejected back in 2010. Two reasons were cited for the reflection by the licencing office. The patio had to be a certain distance away from residential uses and in addition the application could be rejected if the licencing office received one letter in protest, which they did.
The operator appealed in 2011 and gained the support of the local councillor and (of all organizations) the local residents' association. The license was approved in April of 2011 at Toronto and East York Community Council with a couple of extra conditions including a closing time for the patio and a provision to limit noise.
Since that time, the shop has changed hands and Contra Coffee operates the spot in much the same way.
It's amusing, that pondering the existence of this little spot could help to uncover a little something about how the city works.
Toronto is currently reviewing licensing by-laws for boulevard cafes. To my understanding, standards differ depending on the policies of the pre-amalgamated city to which you are applying. This is something that the by-law review is hoping to address, to create a harmonized system across all areas of Toronto.