Construction continues at Gramercy Park Condominiums, located on the south-east corner of Wilson Avenue and Wilson Heights. With over 500 units, the building represents an enormous pool of potential customers for the businesses along Wilson Avenue.

West End retailers in David and Goliath battle with Yorkdale Mall

Two years a go, a group of business owners met at the corner of Bathurst Street and Wilson Avenue. Disappointed by the development of their community, they decided to band together.

“It was pretty clear the area needed revitalization,” Julian Zuckerbrot, a commercial landlord, said. “It had become sort of a transportation corridor for 401 overflow. It wasn’t as supportive of the business and restaurant community.”

With help from Councillor James Pasternak (Ward 10), the group embarked on the path to create a business improvement area (BIA) from Bathurst Street to Wilson Heights along Wilson Avenue.

The goal was to draw consumers into the area and to compete with the Yorkdale Mall, the area’s business juggernaut just south of the 401.

“At the corner of Wilson Avenue and Wilson Heights there is a condominium development,” Coun. Pasternak said. The Wilson Avenue BIA, he said, knew they had to develop a plan to keep those shoppers closer to home:

It’s no easy feat. The Yorkdale Mall is a retail behemoth, home to over 250 stores, restaurants and a mulitplex cinema.

“Yorkdale is Canada’s premier shopping destination,” said Jennifer Kaiser, a senior consultant for Media Profile, Yorkdale’s public relations company.

And that exposure comes at a price. Retail rents at Yorkdale command “about $1,300 on a per square foot basis,” Kaiser said.

That figure is tops in the country, just edging out Vancouver’s Pacific Centre. With the grand opening of 30 new first-to-market stores with a $185 million renovation, the mall appears primed to increase profits even more.

To compete with Yorkdale, Coun. Pasternak said the city must make Wilson Avenue a more physically appealing space.

“We have about $2 million in capital funding for 2014 to repave the street, repair the sidewalks and improve the streetscape with the installation of benches, trees and garden beds, he said.

“If the BIA gets approved they will be entitled to more investment from the city.”

Zuckerbrot highlighted the other major advantage of having a BIA. “It will give the business community a voice at the table to decide how money will be spent in the area,” he said.

“People will always go to Yorkdale,” Coun. Pasternak said. “But we want consumer dollars to stay in Ward 10 as well.”