Yesterday, the Grid published an interesting story about “the Roncesvalles revival.” On the surface, the article cheers the arrival of new restaurants to the street, specifically the Ace and the Westerly, but it goes deeper. It raises questions about the role of community in establishing stable, successful main streets, and expresses optimism that Roncesvalles will be able to avoid the excesses of other trendy hot-spots like Ossington or Queen West.
The Westerly’s co-owner, legendary restaurateur Tom Earl, says he was not looking for the latest hot-spot in order to make a quick buck. “We want to be here for a long time, we want to be part of a neighbourhood—we really want to be involved. And that’s what we were looking for and why ultimately we decided Roncesvalles would be perfect.” Ace owners Maggie Ruhl and Gregg Boggs similarly cite the role of community in shaping the direction of their business. Meanwhile, other new restaurants like Barque and Pizzeria Defina also balance a certain trendiness with a community-friendly vibe, welcoming local families along with younger professional couples.
And it’s not just restaurants; let’s not forget Scout, Stasis Preserves, Green Light District Design, Roncy St. Gallery, Ecotique, Mother of All, Grateful Head, Fresh Collective and the many other new stores and services that are broadening Roncesvalles’ diversity of businesses, and preserving a healthy mix of offerings.
Why has Roncesvalles managed to get this tricky balance right, when so many other neighbourhoods have faced difficulties?
“Roncey,” writes author Paul Aguirre-Livingston, “has a stronger, smarter sense of community more closely associated with a cultural identity that runs deep and rich. […] It’s that very pride in community—a blend of preservation and self-perpetuating drive—that becomes a powerful motivator for business owners and their patrons.”
Ruhl specifically mentions the role of community associations, including the BIA, in taking an active role in supporting and guiding the development of the street. This guidance is not adversarial or driven by suspicion. Rather, the Roncesvalles community has been able to express itself in a productive way, welcoming change as well as continuity, such that new businesses are better able to fit in. It is unlikely that a big box nightclub would be able to establish itself, says Ruhl. “What happens [in Roncesvalles] is that the associations are so involved that it’s always going to be small, little businesses.”
Let’s hope Ruhl is correct. I imagine everyone would feel better if they knew what was coming to the old Rogers space at Howard Park. But so far, I think this community can take a great deal of pride in how the street is taking shape since the end of reconstruction.
This community is why Roncesvalles remains, in the words of Aguirre-Livingston, “the most perfect corner of Toronto we’ve got left.”