By: Dr. Jill Andrew
MPP Toronto- St. Paul’s
When a restaurant that has been in a community for over 40 years closes, it is not only the business that is lost, but we also lose identity, connections, and heritage. Such changes affect the fabric of our community.
Last month on February 26, Randy’s Patties, a beloved staple of “Little Jamaica” in our Toronto-St. Paul’s community, closed its doors. This family business was not only a pillar of our Caribbean community for four decades, but also one of the go-to spots for anyone wanting to grab a delicious Jamaican patty in Toronto.
As a customer and the MPP for the area, I was devastated by the news especially as I had just recently bought boxes of their patties days early to help celebrate Toronto Patty Day. I can still remember me as a kid with my mom grabbing a patty after getting our hair products down the road at Monica’s.
The importance of Randy’s Patties was crystal clear in the days between their closure announcement and their last day in business. People came from as far as Brampton to grab a last patty from Randy’s, and the line to the restaurant went on for blocks – hours upon hours of waiting with some people having to return over multiple days to get their hands on the golden treat. Randy’s had to reduce its business hours and limit the number of patties each customer could purchase to be able to handle such a high turnout.
The Randy’s team explained in a public statement that there were many reasons for the closure, some related to personal life decisions, others to business challenges. Among these reasons cited were the years of ongoing Metrolinx Eglinton LRT Crosstown construction and the compounding financial impacts of COVID-19. These same reasons have caused many other businesses in the neighbourhood to shut down.
It has been more than ten years since Metrolinx started the Eglinton LRT Crosstown construction. Is has been a political ‘hot potato’ for both this Ford government and also the former Liberal government. People are tired of the politricking and want the community back and thriving. During this construction time, storefronts have become invisible, sidewalks inaccessible, and the construction noise has been a frequent disturbance. The project’s completion date, which was originally meant to happen in 2020, was pushed back multiple times. Previous governments have let down local businesses and communities by failing to give businesses the direct financial support they so desperately need to weather the difficulties of continuous construction and COVID-19.
The Ford government’s small business grant program was disorganized and insufficient, with limited eligibility and frequent instances of applications rejected for no apparent reason. Many businesses were hopeful they would receive support, only to be left with none, and with little communication from government or opportunity to appeal a rejection.
And let’s not forget Toronto’s skyrocketing rent prices and the overall affordability crisis well before and of course during the pandemic. While revenues decreased due to the Eglinton LRT Crosstown construction and later, COVID-19, rent expenses have not ceased, causing many businesses in Little Jamaica to close their doors and many residents to move away.
That’s why I put forth a motion back in 2020 at Queen’s Park for the Little Jamaica Small Business Economic Health and Community Wellness Strategy, which would have given financial compensation to Eglinton West including our many small businesses along Midtown also hurt and struggling due to longstanding impacts of the Metrolinx Eglinton LRT Crosstown construction, flooding and COVID-19.
This motion also called for mandated and timely communications with local community members, a commercial and residential rent relief with a moratorium on evictions for the duration of the pandemic, heritage designation of Little Jamaica accompanied by an arts and culture plan, and the construction of real affordable housing in the community, prioritizing inclusionary zoning in all new buildings.
I, along with the Ontario NDP Official Opposition Caucus have put forth legislation demanding a rent freeze on all residential and for our small businesses so they wouldn’t shut down during the pandemic. I’ve put forth legislation calling for a ban on Above Guideline Rent Increases as well as calls to save tenants from the consequences of renovictions and demovictions. We must support tenants. If Ontario doesn’t help tenants keep money in their pockets during these tough times how are they supposed to shop at their local small businesses and grocers for the basics? It’s simply not possible.
Little Jamaica is an important cultural hub in Toronto with international recognition, and, as such, it must be protected. As we’ve seen by the saddening closure of a beloved staple like Randy’s Patties, our community needs increased support to ensure Little Jamaica thrives.
Dr. Jill Andrew, is the Ontario NDP MPP for Toronto-St. Paul’s. She is the Official Opposition critic for Women’s Issues, Culture and Heritage and is also a founding member of the Ontario NDP Black Caucus.