Thursday, 8 August 2013

When an Emerging Neighbourhood Takes Flight

Emerging neighbourhoods can vary widely. They often start out as dismal and down-on-their-luck areas that MAY turn around, but they can also be the neighbourhood that was once down-on-its-luck and has since transformed into one of the most vibrant and successful neighbourhoods in Toronto.

I have helped clients buy and sell properties in both types of emerging neighbourhoods. I become excited when I see a neighbourhood transformed from a lackluster, underpriced outpost to a location where buyers are clamouring to buy property or open a business that has creative flair and imagination.

Sometimes an emerging neighbourhood comes about slowly but when the whole area has gathered enough momentum there can be a sudden swift surge of change. The locals, especially those who have become involved with their neighbourhood, watch in wonderment at how rapidly their neighbourhood is transforming.

In 2013, I believe the neighbourhoods of West Bend and the Junction are experiencing that pivotal surging moment. These adjacent neighbourhoods, which have always had high quality housing stock, were at a lower price point for decades compared to most other neighbourhoods in downtown Toronto. The main commercial street, Dundas Street West, once struggled to attract and retain businesses. (With a few exceptions like the longstanding and outstanding Vesuvio's Pizzeria). It certainly did not have the draw to attract people in large numbers despite its impressive architecture. However, in the early 2000’s, change slowly began. The long established "Dry" bylaw, prohibiting the sale of alcohol, was removed in a plebiscite and very soon, restaurants, organic food supermarkets, design/furniture stores and health-related businesses began to open up. For those new business owners, it was an inexpensive place to open up. And it was this lower price point that allowed newer businesses to experiment and try out new ideas.

For many, there was a belief that the Junction and West Bend did not have the density or the easy transit access to allow for a vibrant exciting commercial strip. Many speculated that these areas would not draw crowds in the manner of Trinity Bellwoods or Leslieville with their easy access to downtown via the Queen streetcar. However, 2013 has put those fears to rest. Not only has the number of new businesses exploded in the Junction and West Bend, but the community in both neighbourhoods has come together to create a Farmer's Market, a Flea Market and now proposes to turn an old police station into a community hub.

In the last year alone, this part of Toronto has seen the arrival of the wildly successful Cantina and Indie Ale House. In the last 6 months, we have seen a surge in the number of new business arrivals. We have seen "Coming Soon" signage for a wine bar, an Italian restaurant on Annette, and a cheese store offering gourmet grilled cheese. We have seen the opening of Gerhard Supply, a men's clothing store where Canadians designers make all the clothes from Canadian sourced material. And though there are many, many coffee shops to choose from, we now have yet another delicious option at Full Stop. For meat lovers, there is the new Gourmeats. East of Keele, a strip of Dundas West that can be a little more challenging to entice new business, there is Foodbenders, offering catering and take-out options for those in search of a healthy alternative. Should you find you have overeaten at all these new tasty options, you can head out to the new RPM: Total Fitness for spin class or strength training.

This neighbourhood is now chock a block with options that most neighbourhoods would die for. On top of what I have already mentioned, there are bars, patios, Thai, Indian, Cajun food, a vegan bakery, a regular bakery, clothing stores, chocolate stores, lawn bowling, ice cream, yoga, pet grooming stores, a doggie supply store, a TV production company, pies and more. To be honest, I am not sure if the Junction and West Bend neighbourhoods are missing anything.

This is what you want an emerging neighbourhood to become.

First time buyers often ask me “what neighbourhoods will emerge next? Where can we buy in the hope that prices will appreciate more than other neighbourhoods in the city”. However, the question should really be “What will an emerging neighbourhood look and feel like if it fully emerges?” Then I could simply drive prospective buyers through West Bend and the Junction to illustrate how a neighbourhood can change. And later, when that person is ready to sell, he or she can make a great return on their investment.

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