I do not support the opening of a Walmart near Kensington (or really, anywhere) but a Loblaws, that’s another matter.
I’m actually surprised that so many people are against it. I mean, it’s a Loblaws; they, and their various big grocery store relatives, are everywhere. It’s also a very different company than Walmart. Okay, yes, it’s still a major corporation that runs annoying ads and is no angel but I’ve never heard of Loblaws organizing food drives for its own employees nor does discussing a union get you fired since Loblaws workers are unionized.
Some people don’t want Loblaws moving next to Kensington because they’re worried that smaller stores won’t be able to compete with it. But I think the Metro at College and Shawn is the shop that should be the most worried about the new Loblaws. It’s Metro shoppers who live near Kensington who are going to be trading retailers, swapping one large grocery for another, closer located one.
People who prefer mom-and-pop stores will continue to mostly, or completely, shop at those stores because there’s no real advantage to switching over to a place like Loblaws. While Loblaws might be a large, chain store, it’s not the same as a Walmart. For one, it doesn’t offer the all-in-one convenience that a Walmart does. But most importantly, Loblaws isn’t that cheap. Unlike Walmart, which offers discounts that are too tempting for some to understandably pass up, Loblaws sells food at prices that many small stores can meet or even beat.
This new Loblaws will supposedly be a smaller location that’s being designed to better fit within the neighbourhood. This makes me think of the Sobey’s on Roncesvalles, which has convenient hours and that’s about it. It’s cramped, there are always lines because there are never enough cashiers (I think because there was space for them) and I swear the prices are higher. The selection also isn’t great since the store is so small. But it does happily exist surrounded by greengrocers and smaller, specialty food shops.
Two other concerns about the Kensington Walmart are the look of the actual building and the traffic it would bring, from deliveries and customers. Since the new Loblaws will be mostly located on the second floor on a condo, the first issue is something that can’t really be pinned on Loblaws. Its presence won’t dramatically change the look of the condo that it will call home. The second one though, well, I’ll admit it could be an issue though really, it shouldn’t be.
The Metro on College has a big, rarely packed parking lot as well as easy alley access for the big delivery trucks. While that store is very much in an urban setting, I’ve never noticed messing with the traffic flow on College or Shaw. I want to think that the situation will be ever better at the Kensington Loblaws since it’s going into a brand, new building that is hopefully wisely planning out how multiple giant delivery trucks will interact with the space. I also assume that a chunk of the underground parking will be craved off for Loblaws customers. I do think that with proper planning, the new Loblaws will have a minimum impact on traffic.
Besides, if this Loblaws does end up functioning more like the Sobeys on Roncesvalles, a large number of customers will be transit users on their way home from work, grabbing some forgotten ingredient or easy-to-cook meal. Actually, if the new Loblaws comes equipped with a decent hot food selection, it’ll be local restaurants that face the biggest competition from this new store, not mom-and-pop grocery shops.
The Toronto Star ran a story today about NIMBYism and Toronto’s apparent increasing resistance to change. While there are certainly cases where that resistance makes sense (like in regards to Walmart), some change, and some growth, is not only fine, but good. While I wouldn’t go as far as saying that a Kensington Loblaws is a good thing (it’s not something that’s truly needed), I do think it’s fine and that its impact will be far less than people expect. But the condo building that houses it, that might be another story.