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Kensington Market

Alley Kat

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Will push come to shove in Kensington?

http://www.thestar.com/living/article/280699

Modern marketing may draw new customers yet Kensington Market's gritty origins are its soul

Nov 29, 2007 04:30 AM
Matthew katz
special to the star

Kensington Market has been a big part of my life since I was a kid. Though I grew up in Thornhill, my parents frequently took me down to the Market. My dad still remembers when it was the "Jewish Market," where some of my relatives first lived upon coming to Canada.

Now, at age 20, I've lived in Kensington for three years and just adore the immigrant-built feel of it.

But the Market's been changing over the past few years. Call it whatever you want – the word "gentrification" has been tossed around – there's construction on every street, old mainstays like the Augusta Egg Market are closing and newly renovated buildings seem to be popping up every week. Among these is the Blue Banana Market, a large, three-storey artist's market that opened up just over a week ago.

The brainchild of Michael Horwitz, 40, a self-employed businessman with an interest in art, Blue Banana offers retail space to artists and independent businesses to have retail space. There's a smattering of kitschy gifts, like fudge and hand cream. More artistic offerings, like paintings, sculptures, and ceramics are also available, all of which customers pay for at a central register.

"It's a combination of a retail concept and an art gallery," says Horwitz, who lives in the neighbourhood. "The goal is to offer artists and small businesses an opportunity to showcase their works in a community-based environment."

In exchange, a percentage from sales goes to the vendors at Blue Banana. There's also a dedicated sales team, meaning merchants don't have to worry about the labour-intensive job of advertising and selling their wares.

But is a large, clean sales floor really in the spirit of Kensington Market? I'd like to think of myself as a grimy-Market loyalist, but I find myself torn. I like the Market's rough feel, but I also like clean buildings. I love poking around vintage clothing shops, but as I get older, some of the boutiques that have been popping up on Augusta Ave. call to me. You can't dress in used scarves and berets forever.

Kensington has always existed in a state of flux. Could the much-feared "upscaling" of the neighbourhood be another wave of change, brought on by people who want to bring in middle-class outsiders by making the Market less grimy, scary and strange?

"This place is the heart of Toronto," says Stephen Saines, a Kensington regular. "Queen West is synthetic hip. Kensington is real hip. That's not going to change."

But while a hip, gritty atmosphere might be great for artists, activists, and students like me, what about the hardworking store owners?

"The Market is changing. It's becoming younger and less ethnic," says Danny Zimmerman, who runs the Kensington discount store his family has owned for over 55 years.

"It's a more difficult business routine now," he says, sighing. "There are good days and bad days, but there's also a lot more outside competition."

Upscaling may take away some of the hipster vibe, but bringing monied customers to Kensington may help these local shop owners.

Hector Lopez, a Mexican immigrant whose family has owned a dry goods shop on Baldwin St. for more than 40 years, echoes Zimmerman's sentiments.

"A lot of people look for quality and healthy food these days, so these sorts of upscale stores can bring people in."

With most of the GTA population in the suburbs, in the land of supermarkets and free parking, it's harder to draw folks to the Market, says Lopez.

Yvonne Bambrick, an organizer of Kensington's Pedestrian Sundays and a director of the Kensington Market Action Committee, (KMAC) is skeptical of Blue Banana and other large retail spaces in Kensington. She fears they could lead to an invasion of big-box stores.

"Kensington is the last free-spirited part of downtown." she says. "Most places here are small, mom-and-pop stores, but there's been greater development lately."

KMAC is working with the community and city hall to create a "handbook" for developers, as well as trying to get Kensington designated a Heritage Conservation District, to help the neighbourhood keep its character while evolving to meet commercial realities.

Blue Banana has the potential to be a symbol of the Kensington-fusion that's emerging – organic, artistically driven and down-to-earth, but cleaner and friendlier.

- Mathew Katz is a student and writer who refuses get his red snapper anywhere but Kensington Market.
 

Jonny5

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The new/renovated buildings on Augusta look quite out of place. They are two or three stories with flat beige facades and small windows and look way too sterile for their environment. They remind me of cheap low-rise student dorms.
I'm not sure if they are for retail or residential.

I'm happy to see Wanda's Pie In The Sky is opening a store on Augusta. Just in time for the busy pie season!
 

Alley Kat

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http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/article/286771

Set the night on fire

Dec 20, 2007
Festival of Lights

In Kensington Market, they celebrate the winter solstice – the longest night of the year – with lots of light and loads of noise.

Tomorrow night, the 19th annual Kensington Market Festival of Lights will see a parade of colourfully costumed musicians, giant puppets, stilt-walkers and fire-breathers wend through the neighbourhood's narrow streets.

Bring a pot, drum or ring a bell and be prepared to join the din. It's a community event and all ages are encouraged to join the throng.

Event organizer Red Pepper Spectacle Arts has also held a series of workshops for youngsters to create their own lanterns.

The event, first created in 1987 by local artist Ida Carnevali, includes a number of spectacles on rooftops and at intersections, including a musical nativity scene and celebrations of Kwanzaa and Hanukkah, as well as First Nations and European traditions such as the White Buffalo Calf Woman, a Sioux legend, and La Belfana, Italy's winter witch.

There's also a giant bonfire, a flaming sculpture of sorts, to symbolically send off the old year, and choirs, dancers and drummers representing the traditions of many countries.

The parade begins at 6 p.m. at the corner of Augusta and Oxford Sts. and is free to everyone.

Bruce DeMara
 

syn

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http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/article/286771

Set the night on fire

Dec 20, 2007
Festival of Lights

In Kensington Market, they celebrate the winter solstice – the longest night of the year – with lots of light and loads of noise.

Tomorrow night, the 19th annual Kensington Market Festival of Lights will see a parade of colourfully costumed musicians, giant puppets, stilt-walkers and fire-breathers wend through the neighbourhood's narrow streets.

Bring a pot, drum or ring a bell and be prepared to join the din. It's a community event and all ages are encouraged to join the throng.

Event organizer Red Pepper Spectacle Arts has also held a series of workshops for youngsters to create their own lanterns.

The event, first created in 1987 by local artist Ida Carnevali, includes a number of spectacles on rooftops and at intersections, including a musical nativity scene and celebrations of Kwanzaa and Hanukkah, as well as First Nations and European traditions such as the White Buffalo Calf Woman, a Sioux legend, and La Belfana, Italy's winter witch.

There's also a giant bonfire, a flaming sculpture of sorts, to symbolically send off the old year, and choirs, dancers and drummers representing the traditions of many countries.

The parade begins at 6 p.m. at the corner of Augusta and Oxford Sts. and is free to everyone.

Bruce DeMara

Did anyone check this out? I completely forgot about it!
 

Alley Kat

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A jazz tribute to Kensington Market

Kensington Suite

Kensington Market resident, and alto saxophonist Richard Underhill fires up a jazz tribute to Kensington on his just released CD set of ten tunes, titled Kensington Suite. The tracks are: Meet Me in the Market, Bike Lane, In the Shadows, A Day in the Park, Green Shift, The Things That You Need, Fire Dance, When I Miss You, and Dreaming Big Dreams, each one evoking a different mood of the 'hood. His CD provides a great vehicle to vicariously visit Kensington, if you can't make it in person.

I don't know Mr. Underhill, although I saw him play during Pedestrian Sundays a couple of years ago, at which time he was instrumental in pulling together numerous professional and amateur musicians for fantastic impromptu pick-up sessions on the street. Can you imagine saxaphones, bagpipes, flutes, trumpets, congas, and such? It felt like New Orleans.
 

Alley Kat

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Tom Mihalik / Tom's Place

http://network.nationalpost.com/np/blogs/toronto/archive/2008/01/10/pitchman-week-tom-mihalik.aspx

Tom Mihalik / Tom's Place

National Post
January 10, 2008,
by Barry Hertz

“You have to be a showman,†says Tom Mihalik, owner of Tom’s Place, the well-known clothing store in Kensington Market. “When I first started my business, I had no money to buy a newspaper, never mind to put ads in one. So I had to be a showman in order to capture the attention of the customer.â€

From the day he took over the store from his father in 1982 and put his name on it, Mr. Mihalik has tried to capture the attention of his customers by creating the sense that the customers who walked through his door were his friends.

“They were my friends because they were bringing money to my store,†he says. “It’s natural that you love the people that are supporting you. I didn’t have to try hard to be a showman. I tried to be funny and I tried to make jokes.â€

In one early ad, Mr. Mihalik played on the store’s location in Kensington Market, which, even more than today, was more of a place to find haddock than a haberdasher.

“We had some ads where we made fun of our location,†says Mr. Mihalik. “We said, ‘If you want to find Tom’s Place, don’t look for a chicken or a fish in his window. That’s how you find Tom’s Place.’ â€

Today, Mr. Mihalik regularly advertises in Toronto’s large newspapers, including this one, and on CFRB 1010, AM640 and 96.3FM. Like his fellow menswear storeowner Saul Korman, Mr. Mihalik likes to ad-lib his radio ads.

“I pick up the phone and I talk about my sales, my karate class, my children going to university. But I always tie it back to the store,†he says.

In his latest boxing day newspaper ad, Mr. Mihalik stands next to champion boxer George Chuvalo, a huge smile on his face and gloves on his hands as the champ
pretends to punch him in the jaw.

“I remember George when I was a small kid. He always supported Kensington Market,†says Mr. Mihalik. “One day I said, ‘Hey, who’s better to do our Boxing Day sale than George Chuvalo?’ It’s an honour to have him talk about my store.â€

Mr. Mihalik’s advertising budget is “quite high,†he says. “But advertising is a key component of our business.â€

The persona Mr. Mihalik has created for himself, he says, is in the Ed Mirvish mold.

“The key to his business, the key to his success, was his personality,†says Mr. Mihalik. “His business was personality-driven. He never took himself seriously. He was a great retailer and a great example.â€

Mr. Mihalik, 51, was essentially raised in retail. His father, William, arrived in Canada after fleeing the Hungarian revolution in 1956. Two years later, he opened William’s Clothing Store on Kensington Street. By 1968, he was doing well enough to bring his wife and son to Canada.

Tom immediately began working at his father’s store. When William retired in 1982 and the store had moved to its current location on Baldwin Street, Mr. Mihalik took it over.

There was never any question, he says, about what to name the store. “I said, ‘Why don’t we call it Tom’s Place?’ Everybody knew Tom because I grew up in Kensington Market,†he says.

“In the 1970s and 1980s, especially, Kensington Market was a very close-knit community, and the storeowners helped each other.â€

He won’t be opening any new locations, not that he wants to. He has to be in the store to welcome the customers who come through the door asking, “Wheres Tom? I want to buy a suit from Tom.â€

“That’s why there’s only one Tom’s Place,†says Mr. Mihalik. “I could not duplicate this business anywhere else.â€
 

Alley Kat

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When Motorists Attack: Road Rage in the Market

...the driver threw a bunch of garbage out the window, the courier picked it up and threw it back in. He got out and threw coffee on her, she keyed the car. He proceeded to stomp on her bike and then hit her before bystanders pulled him away. :eek:

http://torontoist.com/2006/01/when_motorists.php
 

Alley Kat

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Perola Supermarket

http://www.thestar.com/living/Food/article/294229

Perola Supermarket turns its Salvadoran café into a Mexican one

Jan 16, 2008 04:30 AM
Jennifer Bain

Nothing says changing demographics like Perola Supermarket's transformation of its Salvadoran pupuseria into a Mexican cantina.

Instead of being the go-to Kensington Market spot for pupusas, Perola has become a haven for those seeking tacos, chile rellenos, pozole, tostadas and tamales.

"There's a sort of Mexican force happening right now," explains owner Sid Freitas.

Perola used to give even play to goods from El Salvador, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Chile, Brazil and Mexico. Now 75 per cent of the Augusta Ave. shop's products are Mexican.

For 20 of its nearly 40 years in business, Perola has turned over the back of its store on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays to Latin ladies who prepare hot food. (The small shop needs the space during the week to process deliveries.)

Until recently, the menu showcased pupusas – stuffed, griddle-fried rounds of corn dough served with curtido (pickled cabbage) and cold tomato sauce. A Salvadoran woman known only as "Irma" became renowned as the pupusa-making queen of Kensington until health issues forced her to retire.

"A lot of our Mexican customers had been asking us for years now why we only had pupusas," says Freitas (whose parents are Portuguese and Venezuelan).

He invited Mexican friends Karla Silva and Aimee Corona (in Canada eight and three years respectively) to launch Perola's Cantina in July.

The women do much of the prep work Thursday in the kitchen above the store. Final cooking is done to order as customers patiently pull up a stool or chair and wait amid the dried goods.

The cantina's handwritten menu is posted above the rustic kitchen station, along with Mexican banners, flags and decorations in patriotic red, green and white.

There's something for every taste, and Freitas points out "they get a lot of compliments on just about everything they make."

But what obsesses me are the $3 chile rellenos made from anchos or poblanos.

Both versions find chiles stuffed with queso panela, a mild, fresh, cow's milk cheese that holds its shape and doesn't easily melt. Both are dipped in flour and egg whites and then fried. Both are served simply on corn tortillas and rice with crema (a Mexican sour cream that's similar to crème fraîche).

Which is better? It's an impossible choice. Fresh, mild poblanos are blanched and peeled before being stuffed, and wind up thick and bursting with vitality. Anchos (dried poblanos) are soaked in hot water and seeded before being stuffed. They wind up thin, smoky and pleasingly chewy.

"I think everybody's happy because we have a lot of variety," says Silva. "And the good thing here is that Sid lets us use whatever we need. Here we put in the real stuff."

And really, as long as you're not fussed by the cantina's informality, you can't go wrong experimenting with a menu that tops out at $3.50.

Talk turns to Chicago's impressive array of regional Mexican food. Granted, that city has at least 750,000 Mexicans, but since 9/11 many Mexicans have started choosing Canada over the United States as their new home.

"We're working our way up there, but we're still considerably behind," concedes Freitas.

Not for too much longer.

© Copyright Toronto Star 1996-2008
 

Hank

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Hey, does anyone here know what happened to Paris (otherwise known as Jungle Boy, I think), the guy that used to sell that awesome hot sauce/salsa from the folding table in the middle of the market? His stuff was amazing, but I haven't seen him around in a while...anyone know anything about that?
 

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Meet Brad, indie ice cream maker

http://www.thestar.com/living/Food/article/296361

Entrepreneur goes back to the basics for his organic ice cream

Jan 23, 2008 04:30 AM
Jennifer Bain
Food Editor

It's safe to say Brad Kurtenbach can bring his personality to work now.

That wasn't the case when he was a hospital aide. But it is now that he's the king of Kensington Market Organic Ice Cream.

"This is what it's like to be a crazy ice cream maker," says Kurtenbach cheerfully. "To go my route, you end up living in a one-bedroom apartment, maxing out your credit and trying to figure out how you can afford to do what you're doing."

It's funny to find Kurtenbach so down-to-earth since he's the toast of the foodie elite and his artisanal ice cream sells for upward of $8.99/half-litre at upscale shops.

We're in Kurtenbach's kitchen (his wife Jane and son Henry are at the coin laundry) so he can make me a private taste of his attention-getting chestnut and birch syrup ice cream. His Queen St. scoop shop doesn't reopen until April 1.

Kurtenbach has already made a light custard from Harmony Organic cream and milk, skim milk powder, organic eggs, organic cane sugar and Forbes Wild Foods' intense and unique birch syrup. Puréed Ontario sweet chestnuts (also from Forbes) are simmering in sugar and water on the stove.

For this flavour, a label features a caricature of him (wearing suspenders and a stylized moustache) in front of white birch trees with a chestnut-eating squirrel on his shoulder. Variations of this caricature adorn all his labels.

Being good-humoured has eased 38-year-old Kurtenbach through some pretty interesting times.

He was born in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., but says his heroin-loving parents moved him to Vancouver to be closer to the drug scene and soon lost custody of him.

He was almost 5 when he was adopted by Orland Kurtenbach, the first captain for the Vancouver Canucks and a devoted family man.

"So I went from skid row to a very wonderful, very loving, nurturing environment surrounded by hyperactive jocks," he remembers.

Kurtenbach dabbled in musical theatre, punk rock music, outreach for male and transsexual street workers, hospital work and cooking at a gay/lesbian trailer park. He joined St. Michael's Hospital's emergency department in 2000.

"Am I going to become a nurse and double my salary or am I going to do something completely different?" he wondered. "But there's a pretty serious glass ceiling in health care and I didn't have the ability to bring my personality to work."

Kurtenbach pondered opening a video store, doing personalized hospital catering, or making soup stock or ice cream. His mother-in-law passed on a hand-crank ice cream maker and he was hooked.

At an ice-cream technology course at Guelph University in 2003, he realized "the big guys" just wanted to learn about the newest technology to boost profits. He wanted to make premium ice cream from scratch instead of buying flavour formulations.

Living in Kensington Market at the time, Kurtenbach convinced various merchants to rent him counter space. From 2004 to 2006 he scooped from Akram's Shoppe, Pizzabilities, Sanci's and Back Alley Woodfire BBQ & Grill. All eventually gave him the boot. Some started selling other ice cream brands.

But during that time, the buzz was unstoppable and he moved production to an inspected plant. (Hewitt's Dairy turns out his ice cream now.)

In 2004, a Whole Foods Market rep asked for samples and immediately placed an order for Kensington Market Organic Ice Cream, forcing Kurtenbach to get serious about labelling and packaging. The Healthy Butcher was the second big-name store to embrace Kurtenbach's creations. Then the Ontario Natural Food Co-op started distributing to 60-odd retailers.

Sounds great, right? Except that Kurtenbach's Kensington landlord demanded his apartment back, and he couldn't afford the market's steep $1,750 business rents.

That's when Kurtenbach left the market and why his scoop shop relocated in June to Queen St. W. in a $900/month renovated parking garage/garbage room. The tiny shop did well until October and then Kurtenbach shut down to prepare for a spring reopening.

This year he hopes to be in various Toronto scoop shops, to be distributed to almost 225 stores, and get bike vendors selling his ice cream as bars and sandwiches.

Kurtenbach might even do some "inclusion ice cream" (popular flavours) and not be so dogmatic when customers reject rose petal for chocolate chip cookie ice cream.

Still, he stresses that "ice cream can be real food. It doesn't have to be Spider-Man or Moose Tracks."

He looks at what global flavours we enjoy and figures out how to transfuse them into ice cream.

In a visit to his scoop shop, we sample dynamic creations like lavender and blueberry, cardamom and vanilla and – my favourite – Mo' Fig (molasses and fig).

And the famous chestnut and birch syrup ice cream? It exists because Kurtenbach "wanted to do something absolutely, almost unmistakably, Canadian."

It is definitely that. And it oozes personality, just like its creator.


The scoop

Kensington Market Organic Ice Cream is at 650-1/2 Queen St. W. (the entrance is a few steps north on Palmerston Ave.)

It is slated to reopen April 1. Call 416-835-7781 for details and information on where else to buy this product. The Healthy Butcher and Whole Foods Market in Oakville carry some flavours, as do a number of natural food shops.
 

Alley Kat

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http://torontoist.com/2008/01/snappy_answers2.php

Dear Snappy Answers,

I moved here from the U.S. a little while ago. Down there, I would hear these stories about the lax marijuana laws here and the more lax enforcement of those laws. When I got here, I thought I would have an easy time getting my smoke on. Unfortunately, that has not been the case.

I’ve posted on Craig’s List; I’ve talked to proprietors of smoke shops; I’ve even spent hours walking a loop in Kensington Market (as one proprietor suggested) with the hope that someone would approach me on the street. The one thing I’ve learned from these experiences? Desperation must be a repellent to pot dealers.

I don’t know anyone else here I can ask (and you said “ask anything,†not “ask anything that won’t require us to break laws.â€)

I know it’s out there. I just don’t know where. Do you?

Jonesingly,
Lev

Dear Lev,

When you like a girl (assuming you like girls), do you walk a loop around her neighbourhood with the hope that she eventually approach you with a shy smile and an offer of "maybe a drink or two sometime?" Or do you take a deep breath, try not to look so desperate, and go knock on her door?

If you have half a testicle, you'll choose the latter method. And that method works for pretty much everything in life, because as everyone knows, life is a game whose meaning is best explained through vague sports analogies. In this case, you'll only score if you take chances.

Furthermore, our guess is that the Kensington proprietor who gave you this hilariously useless advice was totally screwing with you. Probably because you're American. So drop the Yank accent (and with it, phrases like "get my smoke on"—not cool) and pick up a Tim Horton's mug or a hockey stick or something (we actually have no idea what makes someone Canadian, which is what makes us so Canadian).

If you're still not having any luck at the Hot Box Café (where they can't sell it themselves, but probably serve half the people in town who do), head out of the market and up to College Street. Start at Spadina, walk west, and ask every relatively friendly-looking person you see the same question: "Hey man, you know where I can find some weed?"

And if you get to Bathurst without getting any, stop in at Sneaky Dee's (431 College Street). It's a veritable mecca for starving indie rockers, procrastinating students, and other high-minded individuals looking to cure their munchies with cheap Tex-Mex. Guaranteed, everyone in this joint knows someone who knows someone who sells the stuff out of their dorm room.

Supporting anecdote: A former Torontoist contributor once approached a couple of band boys smoking outside Sneaky's. She shared their pot, then asked where she could get some of her own. They pointed to a big white van pulling up on the street—yes, just like in the movies—and said, "Those guys." She and her friend were actually about to climb in when her boyfriend came out, freaked out, and saved her from making a very hazy decision.

While Torontoist doesn't recommend climbing into big white vans with random strangers—or posting on Craigslist, which is more or less the same thing—we do suggest making friends with them.
 

Alley Kat

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http://www.hfxnews.ca/index.cfm?sid=104512&sc=264

Kensington Market. Even in the dead of winter, it's a bustling place where you can buy everything you want, if what you want is a pink wig or a tomato. Pretty two-storey houses as skinny as Posh Spice squeeze in to create a more human scale of life, and few cars intrude on the walking tranquility.
 

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