It’s been nearly six months since residents of the Coxwell-Gerrard area awoke to find themselves without a neighbourhood grocery store.
The abrupt closure of Rocca’s No Frills in May left the community without answers and, more importantly, without easy access to healthy and reasonably priced food options.
Kevin Groh, Vice President of Corporate Affairs and Communication with Loblaw Companies Limited – the parent company of No Frills – said following the closure that “Rocca’s No Frills has served the community for decades and plans to serve it for decades more. To do that, significant building improvements and renovations are required.”
The company stated it would be “making significant improvements to the building,” and yet months later the building remains empty and barren, stripped of its logo without any signs of improvements or return.
Residents in turn have been left wondering when or if they’ll be graced with the presence of a nearby grocery store again.
Standing outside the empty store with his wife and young child on November 10, Dustin Williams, a resident of the Coxwell and Gerrard area said that the closure of Rocca’s No Frills is, “a bit of a bummer…it’s the only one in the entire area. Other than that you’re going up to Pape and O’Connor.”
In a statement last week, Loblaw’s Groh said the company is still in the permit process of the renovation plan.
“Starting early next year, we will begin demolition to parts of the store to create a new store that will provide a better shopping experience for our customers.”
He said that the company plans to reopen as Rocca’s No Frills but “at this time we cannot confirm the timeline as we are still in the process of receiving required permits from the city.”
This statement was echoed by the tenants of the hair salon next door who indicated that, despite rumours to the contrary, they are not concerned about the building being torn down and had been told by the owners that the store was simply in the process of getting approval for renovations.
The company has been offering a shuttle that runs every 15 minutes from the parking lot of Rocca’s No Frills to Dave & Charlotte’s No Frills at 449 Carlaw Avenue since the closure.
But even when Rocca’s was open, the Coxwell and Gerrard area was defined as a “food desert”.
That means “people have to travel farther for fresh food, they may not have healthy options nearby, they may be unable to comparison shop when purchasing food,” said Sarah Soteroff, speaking on behalf of Richard Florida’s research team at the Martin Prosperity Institute, part of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. The team wrote a report on the subject.
According to the report, “in Toronto, food deserts have become a prominent feature of the city’s ‘inner suburbs’ and priority neighbourhoods.”
This is due to the fact that many of these neighbourhoods were originally designed for residents who used vehicles, which meant there wasn’t a need to build commercial developments such as grocery stores within walking distance.
But with the rapid expansion of the city, and burgeoning communities like the Coxwell-Gerrard area, it has become essential for the city to build and retain easily accessible commercial developments, recommends the report.
A healthy community is a happy one, and leaving residents with access to only fast food restaurants or unaffordable smaller markets is not an ideal situation, especially for an aging population who may struggle with mobility issues, as well as those without vehicles.
Speaking about the effect on the neighbourhood, Coxwell-Gerrard resident Williams said a large portion “of this community is young [adults] with kids, and they can’t afford vehicles with the prices of things as it is now. It’s a struggle. So for just one grocery store in the community it’s ridiculous for people. They’re putting off a lot of their day just to go grocery shopping at this point.”
The Rotman report further emphasizes the need for healthy and accessible food, not just for the convenience of the community, but for the health and prosperity of the local economies as a whole with the research team noting that “there are health [and] diet implications in addition to the issues of the affordability of fresh food.”
With the winter weather fast approaching, No Frills remains in the early stages of renovations leaving Coxwell-Gerrard residents to face the stark reality that some will have to spend the cold months ahead traveling for healthy food options using the TTC or shuttle bus, with Groh reinstating, “the shuttle bus to Dave & Charlotte’s No Frills at 449 Carlaw Avenue will continue.”
How have you been impacted by the closure? Leave a comment or send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org.