Whatever Happened to 710 St. Clair West?

by Keith Lobo
Does the address of our new store sound familiar? If you live in the area of St. Clair and Humewood/Christie, it might. This address was the flashpoint in a neighbourhood battle over a fast-food drive-through. The story of 710 St. Clair West was so newsworthy that it reached far beyond our neighbourhood and even influenced city policies on drive-throughs.

Let’s take a brief look back. The site at 710 St. Clair West had been a McDonalds’ since the 1970s and had become part of the neighbourhood. The restaurant was not a cause for concern until 2001 when McDonald’s announced plans to rebuild the existing restaurant and add a second storey and drive-through.

For those unfamiliar with the site, it helps to get an idea of the lay of the land. The existing restaurant is a single storey with a parking lot to the east. Attached on the west side of the restaurant is “Unit B,” also owned by McDonald’s, which would have been torn down and turned into a drive-through window accessed through the easterly parking lot and alleyway that currently runs behind McDonald’s. Given the congestion and heavy pedestrian traffic near the restaurant, residents became concerned about bringing a higher volume of cars to the intersection. They were also very worried about noise levels, air pollution, and the visual impact of the additional signage and illumination from the drive-through.

They formed the Humewood Neighbourhood Committee and enlisted the help of local city councillor Joe Mihevc. Their demonstrations, petitions, and public appeals led the city to pass an interim bylaw that banned drive-throughs in the area for one year. Eventually the city would revise its existing bylaws to make the ban on drive-throughs permanent.

The Humewood residents succeeded in keeping the drive-through out of Unit B but the space stood vacant for a long time. McDonald’s was looking for an ideal tenant: someone who would not compete with them, i.e. no food service or restaurant, and someone who would not demand extreme changes to the building. It turns out that we were just such a tenant.

We had been operating our vintage furniture and refinishing business out of our garage but decided it was time to take the plunge and open an actual store. Given our focus on local sourcing, it was obvious that we had to look for a location in our own neighbourhood.

We scouted several sites but kept coming back to 710 St. Clair West. It had everything we wanted: tons of natural light, close to transit, and lots of parking. Other businesses were interested in the site but we were persistent and signed on as tenants in the summer of this year.

We have to say that, although McDonald’s was once the neighbourhood “bad guy,” they have been a wonderful business partner. As landlords, they have done a lot of structural work behind the scenes, making it much easier for us to transform the space into what we envisioned: a store that evokes the elegance of a reclaimed estate, features local manufacturers, and showcases the work of neighbourhood artists.

We are excited to be part of the happy ending in the story of 710 St. Clair West, working with our landlord to create a site that caters to slower times rather than fast food.

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