Chinatown residents worry new supermarket will draw business away from local grocers

·3 min read
People wait in a line to shop at T&T Supermarket at its new downtown Toronto location. (CBC - image credit)
People wait in a line to shop at T&T Supermarket at its new downtown Toronto location. (CBC - image credit)

A large supermarket that primarily sells Asian foods opened in downtown Toronto this week, but some nearby residents are concerned it may take business away from small Chinatown grocers.

Hundreds lined up to shop at the new location of T&T Supermarket at 297 College St., west of Spadina Avenue, on Friday and Saturday. The supermarket is owned and operated by Loblaws.

Rick Wong, one of 11 people who helped to organize a community project about Chinatown called "Long Time No See," said he is concerned about the opening of the supermarket and its impact on small diverse businesses.

Small local stores provide innovation in a "Walmart universe," he said. That kind of diversity needs to be supported because small businesses are the "heart and life" of an area, he added.

Wong said the large scale chains decrease the diversity of Chinatown while local grocers help to provide food security. They also provide deals to customers that cannot be found in a large supermarket, he said.

For example, he was able to buy 20 kiwis for a dollar about two weeks ago at a local grocer. That kind of deal is unheard of a large grocery store chain, he said.

"You need these kind of small grocery operators that are out there making these deals. And it's not for everybody. It's not the national chain. It's hasn't been vetted by head office," he said. "And it benefits the community. You don't get that in the big box."

"Long Time No See" features 170 posters of people expressing their love for Chinatown and its authenticity. The posters have enabled people to say "I love Chinatown" and "this Chinatown means something to me," Wong said.

The posters have been placed in seven locations, including Spadina Avenue and Grange Avenue, and the Hong Luck Kung Fu club along Dundas Street West where Wong teaches. He said Chinatown needs to be recognized as a special community in Toronto.

CBC
CBC

Chinatown BIA chair Tonny Louie, however, said he hopes the new supermarket will prompt people to visit the business improvement area. He said the supermarket is upscale and it's a good sign that it's moved into the area.

"They offer products that we don't have in Chinatown. If anything, it's going to make everybody improve their selection of goods and services," Louie said.

Supermarket seeks to complement Chinatown, CEO says

In a statement to CBC News, T&T Supermarket CEO Tina Lee said the chain seeks to add to the community, not subtract from it.

"We respect the deep history and culture of the area and are looking to complement what Chinatown has to offer, not compete," Lee said.

"We encourage anyone who visits our new location to spend some time in Chinatown, to make the walk from College Street to King Street along Spadina to truly experience what the community has to offer — an energy and vibrancy like no other."

Lee noted that the opening of a T&T Supermarket in Vancouver helped the local Chinatown.

"While I understand some have expressed concern that our new location may have a negative impact on local business, our experience in Vancouver's Chinatown was the opposite. Many would agree that our store played a key role in revitalizing Vancouver's Chinatown following several challenges and set-backs, including the pandemic," she said.

"That's because our stores are a destination for shoppers, attracting customers from far and wide, for products they can't find anywhere else in the area ... all which translates to more foot traffic for the entire community."

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