Sul Irmaos to close up shop. What did I say about supporting George Street merchants?

Written on mobile, please excuse the errors.

It is with a measure of quiet rage that I read that Sul Irmaos will be shutting down its brick and mortar shop on George Street. I was just talking about how great it is, and how I hoped Brampton would embrace this restaurant so it would still be open next time I went to eat there. Guess my pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

I am reminded of Helen, who owned the coffee shop where Dare to be Fresh Poutine is now located. She had a successful business, but left Downtown because dollar for dollar, she knew she could make way more money in the Beaches by running her exact same business, just somewhere else. So she left.

And when I read the Sul Irmaos announcement, talking about their plans to run their Kitchen out of a food truck (Read between the lines I mean), I am hearing the same feedback: we will make more money running this business somewhere else, so we are leaving.

Two other businesses on George Street have also recently shut their doors, a juice bar and a liquidation shop. Commercial vacancies are well over the city average of 10% in Four Corners. We keep being told Four Corners is Brampton’s “Downtown” and Urban Core. Hell, we are gearing up to spend even more Money on streetscaping and curb re-alignments and facade improvements, all to improve our “Downtown.”

But it’s not our Downtown. It’s a lie. A damn lie. City council knows it. City Staff knows it. Businesses know it. Residents know it. The TRCA knows it. And now three businesses have learned the hard way that Four Corners is not our Downtown, is not our Urban Core. And if the MLS listing is any indication, the juice shop owners spent over $100,000 on leasehold improvements … and lost every dollar they invested on the seductive allure of that lie.

It’s not enough that it should be our Downtown. It’s not good enough that we have Partial Day – One Way GO service. It’s not enough that the government and religious institutions have occupied 50%+ of the commercially zoned lands. It’s not enough that Four Corners is one of our professional, banking and government Centres. And it’s time we stop selling that lie. Because people are losing money. And how long do you suppose it will be until Ryerson figures it out too?

I have been studying the amount of money spent by the various levels of government in Four Corners. It’s over $500,000,000 in capital expenses, not including what Metrolinx just spent to acquire the lands at George and Nelson, and certainly not including all the social programs that need annual funding such as the methadone clinic. And it certainly doesn’t include the $230,000,000 about to be spent to build a campus building and “library on steroids” for Ryerson. That’s just more of the problem: government, with its 9 to 5 workers with low disposable incomes going home after work without spending, using up all the land in Four Corners.

The definition of insanity is repeating the same action and expecting a different result. When will the cycle of spending government money on Four Corners with no appreciable investment by the private sector end? When will our city’s leadership realize that two square blocks just isn’t a “Downtown” by any definition of that word?

Do we need to build a Downtown? Yes

Do we need to build Downtown in Four Corners? No. That’s a choice we have made, administration after administration for decades.

What we need to do is build Four Corners out until it’s 8 Corners, 12 Corners, 20 Corners. We need to expand the services and amenities locate within the 20 Corners. We need to return Government land holdings to the Private sector. We need attractions in the 20 Corners. We need to be wise about how we spend money on this project of creating a Downtown.

A great example: Do we need to spend hundreds of millions on a Riverwalk? Yes … IF we want unlock development in the Four Corners. But what if we zone for redevelopment at Church and Main instead of at Queen and Main? Just two blocks north but still outside of the floodplain: do we still need to spend hundreds of millions on Riverwalk? Not anymore we don’t! And now we still have those hundreds of millions to spend on the transformation of other intersections, realigning roads, reconfiguring intersections, funding land swaps, refurbishing lands damaged by rail traffic vibrations so it can be rebuilt into higher and better uses. An LRT and a Riverwalk, while they will attract “interest in the area”, doesn’t accomplish any of that work. So why are we prioritizing those projects over reality based initiatives to transform the area?

Sul Irmaos is a big loss to Downtown. But each loss is an opportunity to evaluate causes, and opportunities to make course corrections for future success. We can’t miss this opportunity to conduct a proper SWOT analysis and evaluate how we can change strategies. We are already down three businesses (4 if you count Coffee Culture, which is still fresh). How long until T by Daniel realizes that his location is an albatross around his neck? That a location in Port Credit, all other things being equal in his business plan, would double or triple his profits? He wouldn’t be the first owner to have this epiphany. He won’t be the last.

Let’s admit we have a problem and actually start to solve it. Throwing good after bad is bad strategy in Vegas, and it’s bad strategy in Brampton too.

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