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Distillery District

A

AlvinofDiaspar

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From the Star, by Hume:

Distillery keeps corporate names at bay
Jun. 19, 2006. 01:00 AM
CHRISTOPHER HUME

For most visitors, the Distillery District is a pleasant way to spend a few hours, maybe go for a meal, wander through an art gallery or watch a play at the Young Centre.

It's all those things, for sure, but there's something else going on down here that in its own quiet way is different, even revolutionary.

Though it takes a few minutes to sink in, it's hard to miss: There are no franchises here, no chains, no brands as they're now called.

That means no Starbucks, no McDonalds, no Chapters, no Tim Hortons; well, you get the idea.

This is no accident. For the owners of the Distillery, Cityscape and Dundee Realty Corp., it's part of a carefully considered strategy aimed at resisting the tide of homogenization that is turning cities around the world into clones of one another. They won't stop globalization, but they can keep one little pocket of one little city safe from the forces of sameness.

So far, their approach has paid off handsomely. Though there are millions upon millions of people, many of them Torontonians, who are happy to run with the horde, others prefer not to. These rugged individualists are precisely the ones the Distillery wants to attract. If you want Burger King, don't bother with the Distillery. If you're looking for Future Shop, go to the mall. If it's a heavily advertised national brand you desire, go elsewhere.

The Distillery is a bastion of authenticity, a celebration of the non-corporate. That doesn't mean its tenants don't include businesses; there are dozens.

Lisa Mills-George of The George Partnership, a graphic design firm, runs one of them. "We came because we love the energy," she says. "We feel we're a part of something. And our clients love to come here."

Mills-George and her staff of 12 rent space in the five-storey limestone building that is the oldest on the site. It has been a landmark since 1860, a monument to the Victorian love of architecture, no matter how humble its use.

Transformed into office space, the multipurpose building works beautifully. Throughout the George Partnership's light-filled space there are reminders of the past, stone walls, old bins and scales. This may not be the kind of real estate that appeals to insurance company executives, but that's not a bad thing. Indeed, that's the point.

As it is, barely three years after the Distillery opened as a cultural enclave, it is fully rented. Tenants include everything from cafes and restaurants to art galleries, shops, daycare and, soon, a spa and performing arts school.

"If we had two Distilleries, we could rent them out in a month and a half," says Cityscape's John Berman. "We thought it would take us eight years to reach critical mass; it took only three."

The advent of the Young Centre, the theatre/teaching facility built by Soulpepper and George Brown College, has made a big difference. It attracts 400 to 700 people nightly. All this without a single Blockbuster, Coffee Time or Shoppers Drug Mart.

"Excluding the national and international chains is critical to the approach we've taken," Berman explains.

"By doing that, we've ensured the Distillery will remain unique and special. We've been approached many times, and though sometimes it hurts to say no to the rents they're willing to pay, it pays off in the long run. For example, I think that if the café we had were a national chain, the Distillery would be a far less interesting place. If people want to go to McDonalds, there are dozens around. They don't need to come to a national historic site."

In the meantime, Berman and his partners are busy planning new construction in the southeast corner of the site. They hope to announce a retail/residential/hotel complex before the end of the year.

But don't expect a Holiday Inn.

AoD
 
This is so great. It's a bit of a paradox, though.

The fact that it has reached critical mass so quickly suggests that people actually prefer not to have chains in there. So why are the chains so popular everywhere else?
 
OT:

The fact that it has reached critical mass so quickly suggests that people actually prefer not to have chains in there. So why are the chains so popular everywhere else?

I think Distillery is basically a resort - I'd imagine a good chunk of the people who visit probably likes chains, but feel the need to visit a hip area to be cool, etc. Kinda like Starbucks when it first opened here in Toronto.

AoD
 
I applaud Cityscape and Dundee Realty Corp for choosing retailers that are not chains.

I think Cityscape and Dundee are trying to artificially reproduce how an area gentrifies via attracting the artists and artists are not the mainstream consumer.

Perhaps in a few years when the retailing leases are actually worth a lot more the temptation of the chains might grow stronger.

I see them studying how Queen West evolved(remember those days when Queen West had no chains?), and trying to artificially mimmic that.
 
And also, hardly anyone lives there. If there were a lot of people living there, there would be more dry cleaners and Rabba's and Subways and Starbucks because people need or want stores like that as part of their day to day life.
 
I like the idea of no chains, but I'd frankly be happy if a "Gooderham and Firkin" opened down there. They seriously need some not-so-upscale and not-so-pricey imbimbing locales.

Also, for all their bleating about no chains, they made a serious mis-step allowing that Auto Grotto thing in. Frankly, almost anything, chain or not, would be better.

I dropped into the deaf centre a while ago, it was sort of interesting. I was up on the second floor and one of the workers had to follow me to indicate that was private.

Interesting news about the hotel/residential project.
 
The whole West Don Lands development is taking place on the Distillery's doorstep (it will all be continguous built-up city in a few years) and so many of those chains, and all the shops that people need from time to time will end up down there, potentially just across the street from the area that is off limits to them. People moving in down there will be able find the services they want, and those looking for a less pricey pub will hopefully be able to find that soon too. Not that I know which blocks will be developed in which order in West Don Lands mind you...

42
 
Is there another area like the Distillery that has this potential? Are there any developers with the balls to do it?
 
Re: Distillery District. I should say that for the most part I think they've done an amazing job down there, in terms of getting galleries and other tenants that are quite mixed. As the city encroaches it will feel less isolated.

Re: Others. There are lots of pockets of industrial buildings around, none of the quality of the Gooderham and Worts complex, but quite a few nonetheless. In generaly, they're not being overlooked in terms of condo-ization. There's an amazing complex of former Carpet manufacturing buildings on King West that has been fixed up to some extent but has a bit of an unclaimed feel to it.
 
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While many people seem to prefer the comfort of a chain, I'd say that the primary reason that they locate in new developments is that they provide the developers/owners with a greater level of security.

Say you own some retail space in a brand new condo, and you're approached by a Starbucks rep and some guy who wants to try his hand at running an independant coffee shop. Who do you think is more likely to pay the rent every month? Anyone solely focused on the bottom line will favour the chain, since they have a solid track record of success. This is especially pronounced with restaurants, since most independants go out of business (~80%).
 
Re: .

The 'no chain' diatribe smacks of terrible self-righteousness. I, for one, have no problem with the infiltration of a modest number of chains.

Oh well, the Distillery District is not a real neighbourhood anyway. Nobody lives there and the stores only sell blown glass sculptures and artisanal beer. It's less of a drive-to destination than Canada's Wonderland, but only just.
 
Re: .

Give it time. And do you really want it to become Fairview Mall?
 
Re: .

Well, Fairview Mall actually has stores that I'd buy stuff from...

I don't want to be a dick, so I'll just say that the Distillery Distrct seems artificial and very contrived, which is not something we want to achieve in an urban environment. That there is a committee somewhere that decides who gets to set up shop based on maintaining an identity is very facetious. It's basically 'branding' by any other name and it's no less consumerist than opening a power center in Vaughan.
 
Re: .

I don't want to be a dick, so I'll just say that the Distillery Distrct seems artificial and very contrived, which is not something we want to achieve in an urban environment. That there is a committee somewhere that decides who gets to set up shop based on maintaining an identity is very facetious. It's basically 'branding' by any other name and it's no less consumerist than opening a power center in Vaughan.

True...but you could argue the same for pretty much anywhere in the city couldn't you? The difference here is that the owners have decided to keep rents low enough to allow non-chain stores to flourish. I was at the Distillery for Doors Open and was pleasantly surprised at the number and variety of establishments.

Right now it's something of a tourist destination, but with a large residential project on the outer edges, as well as the surrounding area being developed, it should develop into an interesting neighbourhood...and there should be enough chain stores in the surrounding areas to please everyone.
 
Re: .

I'll just say that the Distillery Distrct seems artificial and very contrived,

Agreed. It's nice over there, but about as real as Colonial Williamsburg.
 

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