Owners

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Business

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World’s Biggest Bookstore has been sold to the developer behind the Four Seasons Hotel

worlds-biggest-bookstore

(Image: Steve Harris)

First it was Sam the Record Man. Then Honest Eds. Now, yet another iconic local retailer is packing it in. Come February, the World’s Biggest Bookstore will be ceding its prime site near Yonge-Dundas Square to a property developer. Indigo Books and Music, which owns the 64,000-square-foot store, says it’s closing the store because the rent, as expected, was rising from the $1.5 million a year the company had been paying. The company purchasing the not-quite-accurately-named store (New York has a Barnes and Noble nearly twice the size) is Lifetime Developments, a residential and commercial developer responsible for the Liberty Market Lofts, WaterParkCity and the Four Seasons. Vice-president Brian Brown said the firm doesn’t “have any finalized plans or intention” for the site—but we’re willing to bet another bargain bookstore is not one of the options. [Toronto Star]

The Informer

Real Estate

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TREB fights accusations of anti-competitive practices…by stalling

For more than five years, the federal Competition Bureau has been investigating the Toronto Real Estate Board for anti-competitive behaviour—specifically, denying low-cost brokerages (and, through them, homebuyers and sellers) access to detailed property information, including past sales records. TREB has fought back against the accusations (with the help of some scary pictures), arguing that open access would violate homeowners’ privacy. The battle was supposed to culminate in a tribunal hearing two weeks from now. However, don’t expect the home-buying process to drastically change anytime soon: TREB has just filed a last-minute constitutional challenge, which argues that the federal competition body cannot interfere with the provincially regulated real estate industry. That expert stalling tactic could keep the case in limbo for another long stretch—which means that the dream of a Canadian Zillow is still eons away. [Toronto Star]

The Informer

Features

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Jan Wong: the simmering class war over basement apartments in Brampton

The Urbanization of the Burbs

(Image: Getty Images)

I once moved into an illegal basement apartment in Toronto for a newspaper series about working undercover as a maid. At $750 a month, it was the most affordable roach-free dwelling I could find. What’s more, it helped my landlord, himself a cleaner at the Four Seasons, pay his mortgage. Secondary suites are mutually beneficial for renters and homeowners. So I applaud the controversial new legislation that has finally legalized the subterranean world of basement apartments. The province-wide law, which took effect in January, overrides any municipal bylaws prohibiting them—bylaws that were typically passed due to residents’ complaints about traffic congestion, overcrowded schools and, though less often vocalized, there-goes-the-neighbourhood fears.

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The Informer

Business

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A fancy Muskoka resort orders its spa workers to hand over their tips (or get out)

Marriott resort in cottage country is forcing some of its staff to give nearly half their gratuities to the hotel—if they don’t, they’ll be fired—which we have to say, seems a little heavy-handed. In a three-page letter obtained by the Toronto Star, Rosseau Muskoka general manager Tony Tamburro lays out the new policy: customers will be charged a 20 per cent gratuity, of which 8.75 percentage points will go to the hotel “to efficiently manage our costs and to remain competitive within the industry.” Forced tip-outs aren’t new (though the cut taken by management in this case seems especially high), but they have been in the limelight this month after Dalton McGuinty showed some enthusiasm for a bill to outlaw the practice. Until such legislation prevents Rosseau from taking a cut, we wonder if spa-frequenting folk will be taking their $450 “Rock, Wind & Water for Two” packages elsewhere. [Toronto Star]

The Informer

Real Estate

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The World’s Biggest Bookstore could soon be downtown’s biggest vacant retail space

(Image: Steve Harris)

The lease for Toronto’s World’s Biggest Bookstore is set to expire in December 2013, and the prospect of an available 64,000-square-foot property in the Yonge and Dundas shopping mecca has developers and big-box retailers salivating. If WBB owner Indigo can’t negotiate a new lease (and it looks unlikely, since it’s seeking a significant reduction in the annual rent of roughly $1.5 million), there are plenty of would-be buyers—one condo developer has reportedly already offered $38 million for the space. However, the building’s owners, descendants of book purveyor Jack Cole, would prefer to find another retail tenant. That shouldn’t be a problem, given the location and the site’s insanely low operating costs (rent plus taxes works out to about $33 a square foot, compared to the typical $150-$200 for a property in that area). As the big-box stores plot their strategies, we’ll take a moment to mourn the demise of another iconic Toronto bookstore. [Toronto Star]

The Informer

Features

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Home Free: the advantages of swapping your mortgage for a lease

After years of crushing mortgage payments and escalating maintenance costs, one homeowner sold her house and signed a lease on a place a few blocks away. Life has never been sweeter

Home Free

Our last house was a little gem. Few homes in Leslieville are stately or architecturally impressive—it’s a neighbourhood of unremarkable brick semis with the rare Victorian or Tudor flourish—and the one my partner and I owned for two years was no exception. But inside, stripped down to its simple bones, with Benjamin Moore cloud white walls and dark wood floors, a cute IKEA kitchen and mid-century decor from local vintage shops, the place had charm. We bought it for $450,000 in 2007, a deal, if not a steal, for a home on a coveted street less than a five-minute walk from all the amenities required by the middle-class hordes: good coffee, a busy playground, decent restaurants. Soon, however, our house began to make exhausting demands: the furnace needed to be replaced, then the roof; the basement felt damp in the summer humidity, and in the winter our barely insulated bedroom, with its ancient windows, was so cold we had to run a space heater through the night.

There was no money to fix any of it. Our line of credit and credit cards were maxed out. We had two comfortable incomes, but after mortgage payments, utilities, property taxes, car payments, insurance, daycare and groceries, there was little left over. We added up the sums, living expenses against income, on increasingly complicated spreadsheets—it would be years before we would be in the black. Meanwhile, the company I worked for faltered during the recession. First the frills were cut: fewer couriers, no fancy Christmas parties, no taxi chits. Then jobs; I lost mine in early 2009.

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The Informer

Real Estate

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Coming soon: updates to the Condominium Act (and two chances to air grievances)

The provincial government is reaching out to the million condo dwellers in Ontario to help upgrade the 1998 Condominium Act into something a bit more modern. The Liberals have launched public consultations to tackle consumer protection for buyers, condo board governance, reserve fund management and dispute resolution, all of which should help owners navigate some of the less-than-awesome aspects of owning a condo (incidentally, the subject of Toronto Life’s July cover story). The idea seems stolen from inspired by Trinity-Spadina MPP Rosario Marcheses private member’s bill to create a condo review board, which recently passed the second reading in the House and is also at the public consultation stage. So for anyone who wants to gripe about maintenance fees or shoddy balconies, this summer will provide ample opportunity. [Toronto Star]

The Informer

Business

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The reason Woodbine Live is stalled: Cordish and Woodbine Entertainment can’t get along

Finally, some details on why the Woodbine Live development—Rob Ford’s signature achievement from his days as a councillor—has made zero progress. Though the rough economy has made attracting tenants and investors difficult, the real reason for the holdup is that partners Woodbine Entertainment Group and Baltimore-based Cordish Companies are fighting, according to the Globe and Mail. Neither company would elaborate on the source of the dispute, but Nick Eaves, Woodbine’s CEO, said they’re currently in confidential arbitration to try to work it out. And here’s where things get interesting: four years ago, council agreed to a tax break that would whittle down the developers’ property tax bill by $120 million over 20 years in the hopes that they’d bring over 9,000 jobs to the area. But those incentives will expire in October 2014 if the duelling partners haven’t finished 800,000 square feet of the mega-project—and, as of now, the project doesn’t even have a final site plan, subdivision agreement or building permits (meaning, it’s basically an empty field). Unless Woodbine and Cordish can make up, and quickly, the site could stay vacant for a long while—or at least until this casino business gets settled. [Globe and Mail]

The Informer

Business

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Reaction roundup: What the city’s sports (and business) writers are saying about the MLSE deal

Sure, the fact that Bell Canada and Rogers have teamed up to purchase Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment is old news now, but the full implications of the deal remain to be seen. For our part, we’re wondering if the Toronto Maple Leafs will be slapped with absurd roaming charges on the road, or whether fans will have to purchase beer by following a series of annoying prompts on their cellphones. Of course, there’s also the tricky matter of whether or not the $1.32-billion purchase will turn out to be a good thing or a bad thing for Toronto sports teams—and, by extension, their fans—when it comes to the business of winning and losing. We round up what the city’s sportswriter corps is saying on the matter, after the jump.

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The Informer

Features

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Destination Munkistan: A look at Peter Munk’s new Adriatic playground for the super-rich

The latest project of the gold magnate Peter Munk is a seaside resort and tax haven for fellow billionaires in the post-Soviet backwater of Tivat, Montenegro. A delirious tour of a world of champagne-drenched parties, supersize yachts and the recession-proof Ultra-High Net Worth Individual

Captain Fantastic: Peter Munk on his 40-metre yacht, the Golden Eagle, which has a full-time staff of five. (Image: Jim Ross)

Captain Fantastic: Peter Munk on his 40-metre yacht, the Golden Eagle, which has a full-time staff of five. (Image: Jim Ross)

There are birthday parties, and then there was Nathaniel Rothschild’s party this past July. The financier, scion of the prominent banking family and future baron was turning 40 and spent £1 million on the weekend-long extravaganza. The venue: Porto Montenegro, a newly developed luxury resort and marina in the Montenegrin coastal town of Tivat, on the southeast side of the Adriatic Sea. It was the sort of gathering that marks the end of an era or the birth of an empire—and in a way, for Europe’s youngest and smallest democracy, it was both.

Four hundred guests arrived at the village airport on private jets or stepped off the fleet of super-yachts that washed ashore from the world’s most glamorous tax havens—the Grenadines, Gibraltar, Grand Cayman. The attendees were described in the Guardian society pages as “200 ugly rich people and their poorer but more attractive partners,” or, as one guest more generously put it, “plutocrats and the women who love them.” A number of the partiers were so fantastically rich they could bankroll whole armies (which the birthday boy’s family, in its heyday, once did): Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska (who arrived on his £70-million yacht, the Queen K); the wealthy Egyptian Sawiris family (who have embarked on their own Montenegrin development nearby); King Leruo Molotlegi, ruler of a tiny, platinum-rich part of South Africa, who hit the dance floor in a fabulous dashiki; British politician Lord Peter Mandelson; Jimmy Choo honcho Tamara Mellon; the historian Niall Ferguson and his Dutch-Somali partner, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a feminist critic of Islam. There was a healthy smattering of European royalty, as well as members of the Guinness and Goldsmith clans.

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The Informer

Features

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Meet five Bay Street escapees who left six-figure jobs to work for themselves

They left six-figure corporate jobs for the queasy uncertainty of self-employment. Tales of emptied bank accounts and the elusive but oh-so-sweet gratification of running your own shop

The Candy Man

Tim English, 46
Then: Bay Street lawyer
Now: owner of Chocolateria

I started my Bay Street career as a labour and employment lawyer at Filion Wakele Thorup Angeletti in 1991. Then I moved to Ontario Power Gener­ation for eight years, and after that to Direct Energy for about a year and a half. I had a high salary, about $250,000, and was on the cusp of moving up into the executive ranks, but in the back of my head, I’d always wanted to run my own business and work for myself. In the summer of 2009, when I turned 45, I decided it was time.

My first step was to study every shopping district in the city, to figure out what kind of business appealed to me and which neighbourhood was booming. I realized chocolate is really hot right now. I had taken baking classes at George Brown College for fun and enjoyed it. So I set up a production kitchen in my house and rented a candy kiosk at the Downsview farmers’ market for three months last summer. I wouldn’t call it a hugely successful apprenticeship: the chocolate melted in the summer heat, and I ended up giving most of it away. Also, Downsview doesn’t attract a demographic that buys quality chocolate and pastries.

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The Informer

Features

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King State of Mind: When did the once-cool King West strip descend into a mess of stretch Hummers, drunken bachelorettes and last-call brawls?

Scenes from a never-ending party

2:45 a.m., Cobra

“Let’s get drunk and fuck! Let’s get drunk and fuck!”

I’m at Cobra, a King West club in a sprawling basement underneath a 19th-century warehouse. In this neighbourhood, the best parties are either deep underground or high above in a rooftop bar. Cobra is decorated like a gothic funhouse, with a wall of glowing skulls and lots of black. The get-drunk-and-fuck directive bleats from a techno remix as coloured lights, inducing a kind of electric synesthesia, pulsate on the basement ceiling. To my left, two girls make out and topple over, knocking down their bottle service glassware. Guys eagerly watch from the sidelines, plotting how to make their move. My teeth chatter from the vibrating bass. I down a shot that’s half Sour Puss and half vodka, proffered by a human Barbie doll bartender.

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The Informer

Features Neighbourhoods

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Gerrard Street East Guide: our nine favourite places along Little India’s main drag

The shop lights on Gerrard Street East stay on till nine—a late-night tradition that started out with the old Bollywood movie house that originally brought Indian merchants to the strip. Now sari shops, glowing neon signs for Kashmiri tea and sidewalk stands selling spiced corn on the cob keep the area filled with Pakistani Canadians from nearby Victoria Park, South Asian families in from the burbs, and residents from the slowly-but-surely gentrifying side streets. The retail bustle is creeping west of Jones, where several new businesses are revitalizing a dreary stretch of empty storefronts, noodle houses, laundro­mats and hair salons.

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The Goods

Shopping

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Good Stuff Cheap: Three unbeatable go-to spots for home improvement

Addison's (Image: Lorne Bridgman)

BATHROOMS
Addison’s
See it on Castlefield Avenue, buy it at Addison’s. The rambling, one-of-a-kind decor mecca is outstanding for bathroom, heating and plumbing goods. Among the vintage gems: deco-ish repro faucets, antique claw-foot tubs and pedestal sinks (each from $200), replacement toilet-tank lids ($25–$40), chrome towel bars (from $25) and cast iron hot water radiators ($100 and up).
41 Wabash Ave., 416-539-0612.

LIGHTING
Paul Wolf Lighting and Electric Supply
Beat big-box prices at Paul Wolf, home to all-hours service and hundreds of light fixtures, bulbs, dimmers and switches. Call the shop’s 24-hour emergency number if your lights fizzle, and they’ll get you what you need.
555 Eastern Ave., 416-466-9957; 425 Alliance Ave., 416‑504-8194.

FRAMING
Victor Gallery
Find rows of solid ash or basswood frames and shadow boxes in black, white and brown stains, as well as hard-to-find dimensions, with nothing over $120. In the rare event that you can’t find a size, a member
of the Mitic family (the owners) will customize a piece in a week.
636 Queen St. W., 416‑504-1659.

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The Dish

Openings

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Introducing: Aravind, an authentic south Indian restaurant in Greektown

Ontario meets the subcontinent: a local fish wrapped in a banana leaf (Image: Jon Sufrin)

Set in the midst of gyro-heavy Greektown, new Indian restaurant Aravind is something of an anomaly. It stands out by serving Keralan and southern cuisine (the curry-and-cream dishes of northern India are way more common downtown) and for utilizing Ontario-sourced ingredients when possible. Aravind, which opened last month, is not a bargain joint by any means—mains here range from $14 to $21—but owners hope the local ingredients, dedication to service and the concise, VQA-heavy wine list make up for it.

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