Toronto Island family 'in a happy place' after getting bike rental business back

They sold off their stock and said goodbye to Toronto Island, after 32 summers renting bikes to tourists and families. 

The Rao family had lost the contract to run Toronto Island Bicycle Rental, but now they have been told they can keep their shop open.

Priya Rao said her parents, Vimla and Hari, were told yesterday they can resume operations. 

"I think we were all just stunned," Rao said. "We had been stunned a few weeks ago and devastated ... and to now be back on that roller-coaster, after trying to detach ourselves from the Island, it's just been a lot of feelings."

They were outbid for the contract last month and told they had to shut down by April 24.

A new company was to take over starting May 1.

Matthew Cutler with Parks, Forestry and Recreation released a statement Wednesday saying that company had dropped out.

"While we were negotiating the agreement with the successful bidder, they voluntarily withdrew their bid from the process."

CBC Toronto reached out to the winning bidder, and was told they retracted their bid due to "unforseen personal circumstances" and that going forward with the proposal would have affected their family. They added that the deal was ended on "good terms" with the city. 

A new five-year contract has been negotiated with the current operators, the Rao family and business partner Gordon Chhor.

"I think we're all in a happy place," Rao said. "We're all very, very happy with what happened and the amount of support has been making my heart grow bigger every day."

Bike sale cancelled

With the prospect of having to close, the family sold most of their equipment last weekend in order to be out by the April 24 deadline.

"We do have to restock a little bit, but that's OK," Rao laughs. "We're happy with the people who have taken a piece of history, as they call it, home and we're just happy to be back to bring more smiles to more families' faces."

The main bike sale was to be held starting Easter weekend, but that has now been cancelled.

The city had said with a new operator it "anticipates a significant increase in revenue to support Toronto Island Park." It also said there would be a new fleet of bicycles and there would be an "overall refresh" of the bike rental facility.

The Rao family says they also plan to upgrade the facility and will have new bikes for rent this summer.

Public support 'incredible'

Rao says she was shocked by the amount of feedback from the community.

"The outpouring of support from this city has been incredible," Rao said, adding many reached out on social media to share their memories.

She says the family is planning a community appreciation event this summer to thank the public for their support.