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Condos, Community Centres and their Urban Markets

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Jen Q began crafting her natural skin care products after learning most products labeled “natural” only gain that classification through loopholes. Six months ago she began selling her crafts, moulding beeswax lotions into the shape of lollipops and whimsically labelling them “Do Not Eat!”

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Like many new entrepreneurs, Jen found that you couldn’t survive on the strength of your product alone. Starting a business calls for a lot of thinking, a lot of processing—and if you’re in Toronto, a lot of money.

Fortunately, Jen found a springboard at Scadding Court’s CityPlace Urban Market and is working to further develop her marketing skills and experiment with new outlets as she establishes her brand.

Toronto’s need for affordable housing is almost always up for discussion, but few seem to discuss the need for affordable commercial spaces. The city appears to be in a continual state of growth and development, but whether we’re growing accessibly and into a community is debatable.

This is why Scadding Court Community Centre, along with a number of other community centres in Toronto, is working to ensure that not only Toronto’s economic growth remains accessible, but also that it works to serve its communities.

“The major challenge that people face, trying to get a business off the ground in Toronto, is the cost of a retail space,” says Scadding Court Executive Director Kevin Lee. “If you try to rent, it will cost you a few thousand dollars a month.”

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Scadding Court’s urban markets have responded to this challenge by providing retail spaces starting at $11 a day, allowing business owners to direct more of their income to operating costs and ultimately leading to greater profits for the vendors.

The vendors aren’t the only ones who profit. As Toronto grows upwards and housing becomes more streamlined, communities run the risk of isolation—even within the downtown core. This prompted Scadding Court to set up one of the markets in CityPlace.

“Condos are wonderful places to live, but there aren’t always the services that you need right away,” says Scadding Court Program Director Herman Ellis.

By bringing these needed services to the condos doorstep, Scadding Court is also fostering a sense of community by establishing what they hope will eventually become a meeting point.

“When you drop something like this in the middle of a development, you automatically bring community in the CityPlace Urban Market”, says Ellis. “Over time, this is going to become a destination market and not just something you bump into. People will come here to get their produce, say hello to friends they’ve made and just enjoy the atmosphere the market creates.”

CityPlace is far from being Scadding Court’s only urban market. They run a farmers’ market in partnership with the Minto group and in 2009, one of their international programs in Ghana inspired an ingenious take on the urban market.

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Rather than build stalls from scratch, Ghanaian vendors sold their wares out of repurposed shipping containers. Determined that this model could work out just as well in Toronto, Scadding Court established the Business out of the Box (BoB) initiative and the corresponding Market 707.

BoB’s low cost retail spaces have made it an inherently accessible venue for new entrepreneurs, but Scadding Court has taken this initiative a step further.

“On its own, having a market out there can be a good thing,” says Effie Vlachoyannacos, Scadding Court’s Director of Development and Community Engagement. “What makes it even better is having a process that actually engages women, newcomers and others who get labeled as vulnerable communities.”

BoB is currently working with Toronto Community Housing, as well as the Rotman School of Management and Women’s Habitat (an Etobicoke women’s shelter) to help women in the shelter system take advantage of BoB’s entrepreneurship opportunities.

“What we’re hoping to do is have that process or journey that supports women through their initial thought, through business development and link them in to the support that exists,” says Vlachoyannacos. “What’s missing is consistent support and what we’re hoping to do is work with Women’s Habitat to provide that support.”

As it stands, all sorts of vendors have seized these opportunities, using their market stalls to sell everything from cosmetics to jewelery to prepared foods from all over the world. One of Market 707’s shipping containers has even been transformed into a barbershop and nail salon.

“I’m not surprised but rather impressed by the creativity,” says Vlachoyannacos. “Even though all the units start out as an empty box, vendors can make them distinctively their own.”

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While Scadding Court’s markets are doing a world of good for both the vendors and the community, Kevin Lee asserts that they’re not following a charity model. Instead, they’re fostering what he describes as a symbiotic, mutually beneficial relationship between the vendors and the community.

“The biggest difficulty was helping people visualise what we’re doing in a holistic way. It’s not just about providing high-grade cupcakes to the community. It’s a continuum that people in small business have,” adds Lee. “People at CityPlace are getting the real deal. The products we have are quality because the vendors do everything from beginning to end. Everybody benefits.”

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