After 18 years, The Souvenir Market, situated inside Toronto’s delightful St. Lawrence Market, is going out of business. But this closure is not due to the debilitating COVID-19 lockdowns and government-mandated closures that have caused too many stores and restaurants to go bankrupt. Rather, the shop’s owner, Jenny Huang, alleges that she was targeted for eviction because she had the temerity to complain about the presence of a busker with addiction issues, an individual who was scaring away customers from her shop. She alleges that one of the market’s real estate managers, Daniel Picheca, didn’t like the fact that she was complaining. Jenny says that thus, Picheca could be pursuing a vendetta against her.
We reached out to Mr. Picheca, but he declined to comment, directing all our queries to City of Toronto spokesman Brad Ross.
Mr. Ross had this to say:
[The St. Lawrence Market] is a City asset that must maximize revenues from its vendors. We have a responsibility to Toronto taxpayers to manage the Market and the leases responsibly. In short, this means business decisions are sometimes made that are not going to please everyone. We are very sympathetic to Ms. Huang and her desire to continue as a merchant at the Market, but the issue here is a combination of an over-representation of the souvenir category, the need for tenants to operate during set market hours as required by the lease agreement, and the City's right and obligation to make decisions that are best for the Market and all of its vendors to ensure the Market's continued success.
But wait a minute: if the city is stating that the souvenir category in the St. Lawrence Market is over-saturated thanks to the presence of five souvenir shops, why has Jenny’s store been singled out? Especially given that Jenny’s shop was the very first souvenir store to open in the St. Lawrence Market, almost two decades ago? This makes no sense. And it seems unjustified.
There is a glimmer of hope, however: Toronto criminal lawyer Calvin Barry has agreed to take on Jenny’s case pro bono. Maybe a court can overturn what appears to be a miscarriage of justice that might have more to do with a manager taking umbrage at a complaining tenant.
Our take: as a rent-paying tenant, Jenny had every reason to complain about a deranged person whose lingering outside her shop caused her to lose business. Why does it seem that the city is going to bat for a deadbeat rather than a responsible businesswoman such as Jenny Huang?
Or is this yet another indicator that in John Tory’s Toronto, the city’s marketing slogan would appear to be: “Reward the takers; penalize the makers.”