This Sunday July 31, another suburban shopping plaza in Toronto will close for good. For over 50 years, Bathurst Manor Plaza, at the corner of Wilmington Avenue and Overbrook Place, served the local community. At its peak, it had Sunnybrook Market, a local grocery store, a Shoppers Drug Mart, LCBO, and a CIBC bank branch. It also had several clothing stores, an optician, restaurants, cleaners, an a video store. These may not be the types of businesses that would attract customers from far away, but they were the types of stores essential to the local community. It also had a gas station and service centre, which was later occupied by a kosher pizza restaurant. The plaza’s second floor houses doctors’ and dentists’ offices, lawyers, and other services.
There was also Goodman’s China and Gifts. Known for wedding registries, it was where my father would go (all the way from Brampton) to get fine crystal gifts, for my mother’s birthday or wedding anniversary, often bring my brothers and I along. I still remember friendly Mr. Goodman behind the counter, who always had a twinkle in his eye and loved seeing us kids with our father in his store. This is why I felt particularly sad visiting this plaza for the last time earlier this week.
Canadian Jewish News has a very good article that discusses the history and future of Bathurst Manor Plaza.
The abandoned Goodman’s China store
The plaza, built in 1960, is at the corner of two minor streets, but located in the middle of a master-planned postwar subdivision. On the southeast corner of Overbrook and Wimington, there’s a park and a community centre, on the southwest corner, there’s a large Jewish day school and a synagogue. On the northwest corner, across from the plaza, there are a few small apartment buildings There are also several public schools nearby. Most Bathurst Manor residents would have lived within a short walk of most of these amenities.
Bathurst Manor Plaza is in the centre of the neighbourhood.
It’s interesting that even as late as the 1960s, many Toronto suburban developments were designed to allow residents to get by without a car for short, regular trips. Don Mills and the older sections of Bramalea had the same principles in mind.
Bathurst Plaza’s decline came in the 1990s and 2000s. The Sunnybrook grocery store closed in 2004, while Shoppers Drug Mart, LCBO, and CIBC moved to a larger big-box plaza on Dufferin Street, joining Boston Pizza and McDonald’s. As anchor tenants started to vacate the older plaza, it was harder for other tenants to hang on, and maintenance on the property declined.
Older plazas often have or had simple signs such as this one, marking the location of the vacated hardware store.
Sadly, while that new plaza at Dufferin and Rimrock has a lot more automobile traffic going past it, it’s not in a walkable area. West of the new plaza are warehouses and factories. And south of Rimrock Road, where Dufferin Street turns into Allen Road, pedestrians and cyclists are banned. While Bathurst Manor had a large parking lot that was once filled with cars, at least it was easy to walk to.
Shoppers Drug Mart, LCBO and CIBC moved to bigger units on Dufferin, but are now in a location that’s much less walkable for local residents
There were plans for a new development here with two 6-story residential buildings with street level retail, and 44 townhouse units. That application, first proposed in 2006 and again in 2011, is dormant, so in the short term, nothing will happen to the plaza, except further decay. The local councillor, James Pasternak (Ward 10 – York Centre) said to CJN that …”the whole thing is quite sad. It was a vibrant neighbourhood plaza at one point.”
Other, smaller plazas in Toronto, especially those off major traffic routes, have seen similar declines. In Etobicoke, Stonegate Plaza served its neighbourhood well. It was the about the same size as Bathurst Manor Plaza, and it was anchored by a Valumart grocery store. But a new big-box style mall, anchored by a Sobey’s, opened on the Queensway, and in 2014, the plaza closed and a new residential development is under construction on the site. Sadly, this means that residents without cars (which include many seniors) live in a food desert.
Older plazas like Bathurst Manor had an interesting mix of big chains and small businesses, and were often focused on the local communities that they served. Newer plazas are typically much more separated from nearby residential areas, but offer the large, big-format units that are in demand by national and global retailers. It’s unfortunate, but that’s reality.