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Is this the beginning of the end for Kensington Market?

Imagine my surprise when, as I turned north on Kensington from St. Andrews heading toward European Meats, I spotted a fresh new bakery on the north side of Baldwin St. Not just any bakery--Cobs Bakery. The same Cobbs that's on Bayview Ave. in Leaside, of all places. Yes, that Cobs--with 40 locations in Canada! Just down from Graffiti's Bar and cafe. If there was ever a shop that looks totally out of character with Kensington, it's this one. I don't mind their products, but they have nothing in common with the ethnic diversities in Kensington. If any more places like this open up, there might as well be a McDonald's and a Starbucks, too. Too bad.

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  1. I was wondering something similar- but I think it's a further sign of the times for gentrification of the area- considering a couple recently bought a home on nearby Walmer Rd for a record price (forget what they got- they were offering 2 mill) on a house *that wasn't on the market* .

    There was a giant pile of garbage bags outside of it when I went by & a passerby asked me if I thought the bags contained yesterdays bread..(not sure if it was a comment on his hunger or in regard to the general content of the bags, or..?)

    Inticed by my nose I paused outside of Cobs, but after considering the lineup I then found Kensington Kitchen, where they were selling *their* day olds, which were still
    (italics here/)scrumptious(\italics here), mention the new place to them, then they remarked they've been there for 15 years-and this was my first time there after living in downtown TO for 12 years!(k, real review to follow).

    It was a quite a contrast to Cobs-so I think there's something to be said for product placement & layout design- clear windows with bright right up front- hard to avoid a sight like that..

    1. Nike tried to open a store there under another banner. It was vandalized regularly. They closed it.

      This could have a similar fate. But Foodland is there selling PC products, so, who knows if this is new.

      All depends on what happens to rents.

      1. Ahah! So it IS a chain. I saw it just today and thought it looked too put-together to be a one-off. I had a teensy bite of a sample of something or other and then went and bought bread at My Bakery a few doors west. I fear that it will do well because it's so tidy and the breads are very tempting - not at all in keeping with the wonderful grittiness of the neighbourhood. But then again, remember that the Second Cup tried to establish a shop there too and failed. Or so I assume, since it only lasted a couple of years before turning into something else.

        I am officially boycotting the place on principle alone.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Nyleve

          I don't think it's fair to fault *ANY* food service establishment for having neat, tidy, clean appearance. I think that there are far too many places in Kensington that don't keep up a reasonable minimum standard at all, and it will hurt them in the end. I would far rather buy my food from a shop that mops the floor, dusts the shelves, and fixes their lighting than a run down, stinky hole in the wall. Money aside, if you're going to run a food operation, you have to keep it clean.

          I don't think chain stores belong in Kensington, but I think indies have to keep up. It's easy to make a better espresso than Starbucks (just use fresh coffee that isn't burned to a crisp), but why do so many indie shops have untrained staff that will serve you a 2-second or 60-second shot made from coffee ground 2 hours ago and call it espresso?

          1. re: Optic

            My issue with Cobs isn't that it is a chain. They can probably argue that it is an independently owned small business, which is true of most franchises. My issue with Cobs is that most of their stuff doesn't taste good. But they will succeed or fail on their own merits. If they succeed, it means that there was a place for them in Kensington after all.

            One can take counter culture or, more appropriately in this case, reverse snobbery, to absurd extremes. Remember the shrill whining and panicking over the ValuMart a couple of years ago? Yet this place is NOT Loblaws. It is a long established local business operated by a family long established in the Market. They saw a niche for selling PC products in the MArket. If they are successful, then they were right.

            I don't live in Kensington and, frankly, I wouldn't want to. But I will go there for Jumbo empanadas and Alchemy bread among other things. I won't go there for ValuMart or Cobs. But if I lived there, ValuMart would be handy to have around. Cobs I've tried elsewhere and would ignore. So maybe these "interlopers" will thrive or maybe, like Nike, they will fail. We'll find out soon enough.

        2. Ew! Yuppie chain bread does not belong in Kensington.

          I think the slick pre-fab signage alone will make it pretty clear they're a chain.

          1. Just ignore them and they'll go away. Besides, My Market Bakery is just down the street and lord knows their product is going to be infinitely better...

            6 Replies
            1. re: escoffier

              That's the bakery I meant - My Market, not My Bakery.

              1. re: escoffier

                Also, Alchemy Bakery, just around the corner on Augusta, makes some of the most amazing breads in the City. I love their Afghani style loaf with nigella seeds.

                1. re: phoenikia

                  Mmm, nigella.

                  Excellent baked goods at Alchemy, no doubt.

                  1. re: mrbozo

                    I must be blind, I was at Kensington the last two weekends and didn't see Alchemy. Google maps has them listed on Bathurst. Do I go right or left coming up Baldwin.


                    1. re: Mila

                      Alchemy is on Augusta, north of Baldwin, on the east side (at Oxford St.?). So turn right if you are walking west on Baldwin.

                      1. re: Yongeman

                        Thanks Yongeman, I'm there this weekend.

              2. An interesting sidebar to this Kensington Market story is the changing customer-base there. Several years ago, you could find all manner of people driving in to do their shopping at places like European meats, etc. In the last few years, European has opened its Etobicoke wholesale location to the public, meaning that many in west Toronto choose to head there instead of Kensington for their shopping. Being a regular market customer for nearly ten years, I definitely have noticed a lack of 'buzz' at places like European, and frankly, I have no idea how the smaller butchers even survive.

                1. I certianly love the many one-off marketeers in Kensington as well as the market buzz on a lovely warm afternoon.

                  However, I have many a complaint about Kensignton as well, which is opening the door for these big slick shiny stores to open their doors.

                  For example, in the height of peach season I could not find a single Ontario peach in any of the fruit markets.

                  Second, My Market Bakery is not nearly as good as they use to be. Their paltry variety and quality of breads only looks better compared to the sour surly attitudes of the girls that work there (not all of them but most of them). Thier squares and baked goods are smaller than they use to be and are always mishapen as the carlessness of the staff just make them appear worse.

                  I don't think the gentrification of Kensington is a good thing but I do think that one of the best ways to keep them out is for the already established small business owners must maintain their profile and quality.


                  1 Reply
                  1. re: j2brady

                    Several years ago there was much ado made about the opening of the Tim Horton's that opened up on the Danforth around Logan. There was all this talk about how it would somehow destroy the character of the Danforth. I guess the residents of riverdale eventually warmed to the idea considering you can barely get a seat in the place on a Saturday morning after standing in line for ten minutes.

                  2. Kensington is running now on about 80% nostalgia mixed with about 20% authenticity.How many vendors speak Yiddish, anyway? I first walked into Kensington in '76. left it in '86, and returned in '93 when I was shocked by the passage of type of shop that imparted the grubby charm I loved. The streetcar alley on Spadina killed the anarchic, Roman-style driving and improv, ticketless parking.The streetscapes look familiar but the guts of the place are long gone.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Kagemusha

                      not true - wanting the market to be jewish is nostalgic. the immigrant groups occupying the market come in waves, and so the vendors and their offerings change. having said that, there are plenty of vendors who have been there for a decade or more, and the anarchists still live them. the market is still made up of independent vendors (except for the one of two mentioned in the thread - i do count zimmerman's amongst them despite the owners long history in the market). some of the newcomers like la palette and alchemy are clearly there for as much of the community spirit as the clientele, as is evident in their involvement in market community activities.

                      1. re: Kasia

                        I agree with Kasia. I've been going to Kensington for years now, as recently as a few hours ago, and it still has a great energy about it. There are few areas in the city where I can wander aimlessly, eat a range of different international chow (papusas, falafel, burritos, etc.) and poke my head in some interesting shops. Combined with a stroll through Chinatown (where I can never resist a few take-away goodies from one of the banh mi shops, never mind the people watching/pushing), it's right up there with my favourite ways to enjoy this city. Maybe it's not the same place that my grandparents lived in when they first came here but there is still an ethnic flavour and an "old world" marketplace feel that I can't help but love. And the coffee at Louie's...:)

                    2. Both the nostalgics above missed the point: Kensington is no longer the immigrant goods and services destination it once was; indeed, it's main purpose now seems to be an informal, loose-jointed theme park for downtown bohos looking for a long-gone ethnic authenticity. Maybe it's news but the most vibrant food areas, esp. for the broad sweep of Asian cuisines, are largely out in the 905 zones in late 2006. Spadina shopping suffered less but Kensington's not far from an oncoming tsuname of money and redevelopment that will wash out what little life's still in it.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Kagemusha

                        whatever - as an non-anglo immigrant living downtown and not planning to move to the suburbs, i am pretty happy with the market and the sense of familiarity that it offers (not to mention delicious eating). it doesn't have everything i need, but no place does, including those 905 zones (for instance, i cringe at the lack of open public spaces there whenever i drive with the in-laws to a restaurant or shopping mall and experience their daily traffic in endless parking areas). i never said kensington market is THE destination for ethnic goods. toronto is big and diverse and has much to offer in various areas. clearly the market is good enough for those of us who refuse to drive out to the suburbs for groceries (or to north york or wherever), or who like to interact with and support small shop owners. kensington market contains lots of food variety in a very small space, which is pretty unique in the day of urban sprawl. while there is lots of good asian and other food in 905, i can't think of another place that includes caribbean, ethiopian, south american, south east asian, and other shops all in the perimeter of a few blocks.

                        1. re: Kagemusha

                          I've been going there since I was a teenager just as a place to hang out, maybe I can be accused of wanna-be bohoism but I was never looking for "ethnic authenticity" - more like second-hand clothes and a relaxed vibe. When I was older and worked downtown I would wander over at lunch and enjoy the relative lack of bustle compared to corporate Bay St, consumer heaven Yonge & Dundas, or crowded Spadina. There is also as mentionned a *variety* of ethnic treats. Kensington can be enjoyed for what it is, it has never been about the groceries for me.