The small businesses that line Weston Road and give it its character have been having to adapt to the pandemic and its new rules. Many began to provide take-out service quite soon after the shut-down, and others started as soon as the Province announced that stores with sidewalk access could re-open. Some local retail stores are operator-owned, but others have had to negotiate with landlords unwilling to renegotiate rent or use the government’s partial subsidies, making it hard for such stores to stay in business. Many of the re-opened stores and services are experiencing greatly reduced income, although some food providers have prospered due to the limited number of take-out choices available. VeezVegan is a local good-news story; while their store was closed, Veez provided food to frontline workers; since re-opening, their business has increased as more people phone-in to order take-out meals.
By now both shoppers and staff are used to plastic sheets or perspex shields between the customers and servers, signs to ensure social distancing, rubber gloves and masks being worn, and strict limits on the number of customers allowed in a store at the same time. Not all food stores are managing things the exact same way. Some, like supercoffee
and VeezVegan have cleared away all their tables and chairs. Golden Crisp has set up a one-way system whereby customers enter by the front door, pick up their fish and chip order and leave by the back door. Cleaning and sanitizing have increased. Supplies have been a challenge for several stores, especially when they find themselves competing against large supermarket chains for fresh food. Many stores accept only credit or debit machines, but Golden Crisp will accept cash, which it puts through the dishwasher to clean it. Our local retailers are working hard to make sure customers understand they are doing all they can to keep everyone safe, including staff as well as customers.
Unfortunately, some stores have had to lay off staff or reduce their work hours, (though some have been able to use the CERB government subsidy program to get by). One unfortunate results of these changes has been the loss of community interaction at these stores, many of which are normally lively social hubs. The experience of eating lunch or drinking coffee at home, or outside on a bench (with only traffic to look at), is very different from meeting friends or neighbours at the local restaurant. coffee shop or corner store!
How to Keep Community Alive when we can’t meet?
Coffee shops, restaurants and corner stores are not the only Mount Dennis places where local residents like to meet in normal times. Mount Dennis Neighbourhood Centre used to provide communal meals on weekends; it is still providing the meals on Saturdays at 5 p.m. and Sundays at noon, but strictly on a take-out basis; and MDNC is not running any other programs at this time. UrbanArts has adapted some programs to go online – look for details in a future MDCA e-blast and on our web-site.
The Mount Dennis library is closed, but the Toronto Public Library system has many resources on-line. TPL has introduced an Instant Digital Card so you can download e-books and e-audiobooks even without a current library card. They have a broad range of live and pre-recorded programs from storytelling to book clubs, digital innovation and financial advice. Go to tpl.ca and click on “38 way to use the library from home” to learn more. Some libraries, including the Jane/Dundas branch, have even been used to distribute food bank packages that include books for children.
The Learning Enrichment Foundation (LEF) on Industry Street continues to provide its supportive services online, including Employment, Settlement and Language Training. LEF supports more than fifty new clients each month, as well as staying in touch with (and supporting) its hundreds of pre-pandemic clients. See their website at lefca.org for courses and a calendar of events. Skills training courses will resume when referrals from the City resume. LEF’s child care courses are closed at present, and will probably have smaller groups when they resume, while still giving children experiences to develop their resilience, and enjoyment of outdoor play.
Many local church services have also gone online, some using Zoom, some with print versions and others with visuals. York Temple Salvation Army also has bible studies and prayer meetings held through videoconferencing, and reports that the use of their food bank has greatly increased (contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information). Telephone trees have also been set up by some church members in order to support one another. St. Mary & St. Martha Anglican also has teams dealing with the pastoral care of parishioners, mainly by phone. They have had to suspend their community suppers mainly because most volunteers are over 70, and are rethinking how to manage this program in future. Like many other organizations, these churches think that a return to “normal” will not be like pre-pandemic “business as usual’, but will likely incorporate new virtual communication strategies to serve more people.
This article has mentioned just a few of the many businesses and institutions that help make Mount Dennis the special place it is. MDCA really appreciates the hard work that ALL local businesses and institutions have put into adapting during this crisis, and providing as fully as they can for their customers. Please make every effort to support our local retailers and institutions. We all need to do our part if Mount Dennis is to remain a vibrant community with a lively main street!