Led by: Howard Tam and Jon Woodside
Text: Howard Tam
Photos: Howard Tam
In Toronto, we have seen a rise in the number of micro-enterprise start-ups. However, these entrepreneurs face financial barriers – one of which is rent. Traditional storefronts in Toronto are expensive, and many spaces are not geared for super-small businesses looking to try out a new concept. We designed our walk to explore some of the ways in which innovative landlords and community groups have begun to challenge this.
We gathered outside the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) Spadina, which is located in the beautifully restored Robertson Building. CSI offers shared workspace and office equipment for small non-profits, entrepreneurs and consultants. This principle of sharing and reducing costs is also effective in retail, as we would see.
Next, we ventured up to Chinatown, where a small kebab stand and phone card vendor were operating in, literally, two holes in the wall. The kebab stand is physically sandwiched in a gap between two buildings where there was just enough space for a stall, while the phone card stand operates out of a former stairwell. Along the way, we discussed the importance of local economic development, challenges faced by small vendors, and how micro-enterprise can help to enliven streets and “dead zones.”
At El Gordo in Kensington Market, shared facilities – kitchen equipment – help lower costs. Participants were amazing at how businesses could operate in such small spaces. A visit to Whippersnapper, Toronto’s smallest art gallery, showed that you can display art in less than 200 square feet!
Our final destination was Market 707 at Scadding Court Community Centre, where shipping containers provide cheaper infrastructure, helping to lower costs. We had lunch and talked about the potential for more micro-enterprise markets in Toronto. Ideally, there would be many small, affordable incubation markets around the city that could help small businesses launch and develop a customer base. That would be truly innovative and would make our city a vibrant working habitat!