The worst fears of Kensington Market’s cadre of anti-corporate activists are about to come true: Tribute Communities, a development company that’s in the process of building a 15-storey condo tower on the Market’s northern border, at 297 College Street, confirms that it has recently inked a deal with Loblaws that would give the supermarket chain a 20,000-square-foot toehold in the neighbourhood.
The new supermarket will likely open with the rest of the condo building toward the middle of 2016, on a site best known as the former home of a Zen Buddhist temple. Loblaws plans to occupy the second floor, plus a small alcove area on the main floor that will be devoted mainly to escalators. A second retail space in the building has yet to be leased.
Steve Deveaux, Tribute’s vice president of land development, knows that Kensington Market’s various community groups have been agitating against this exact outcome ever since the development application came to their attention in late 2011. Activists have said that a large grocery store would compete with Kensington Market’s many unique small grocers, possibly hastening the neighbourhood’s transformation into an expanse of trendy restaurants and clubs.
Deveaux pointed out that 20,000 square feet is relatively small, at least by Loblaws standards. (The Maple Leaf Gardens Loblaws, for instance, is about 85,000 square feet.) “It’s not a big-box store like some people will attempt to categorize it,” he said. “It’s more of a community grocery store.”
“Kensington’s a very unique place that will still be relevant,” he added. “This offers a different shopping experience.”
A RioCan development proposal for another plot of land, on Kensington Market’s western border, calls for an even larger shopping centre, to be anchored by a Walmart. That plan has been temporarily stalled by a freeze on new retail development along Bathurst Street, imposed by city council in July. One way or another, though, it seems as though the area is in for some change.