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Why is there still a Target-sized hole in my heart?

Sears didn’t mean much to me. It was just a shortcut to the rest of the mall, that is until it started to get really interesting, right before it went under. A huge banner advertised a new slogan “What the Sears?”. The store was constantly under renovation. There were suddenly shelves of reasonably priced housewares and a hopeful sign that read a café was coming soon. It was a desperate makeover to stave off bankruptcy — and it didn’t work. When Sears inevitably closed, I realized with a sinking feeling the Christmas tradition staple the Wish Book was now canceled.

It was one more blow to the seemingly bleak retail landscape.

While Sears was unfortunate, and my childhood will forever miss that giant book of toys and holiday possibilities, there’s one that really hurts­— the one that got away.

The store I made a beeline for every time I went to the States was finally coming to Canada! I trekked to the Cloverdale Mall in Etobicoke on Target’s opening day, but immediately something felt off. The huge store felt empty and the stock placement seemed random. I gave it chance after chance, but it never got better. It was a big debacle, and Target eventually went back to the States defeated, leaving behind empty real-estate and its big concrete balls.

Target shot its shot and lost. It came on too strong and took on too much too fast. In its zeal to enter Canada, it had taken over all of the leases of the now defunct Zellers and quickly discovered not all the spaces were suitable to be transformed into Targets. I wondered, did Canada also play a part? Was it Stephen Harper’s fault? When he ditched the beloved long-form census did it leave the corporation without enough demographic information to make proper expansion decisions?

Whatever the case, Target it’s-not-you-its-me’d itself right out the door, and I found myself at its funeral. I wanted to say goodbye in my own way, and see if there was one last bargain to score from the sad clearance wreckage. Mourners and a handful of media were gathered. Bagpipes played. A sobbing girl laid flowers. A protestor held a sign that read, God hates fake funerals. It was…something. I guess I wasn’t the only one looking for closure.

And then, suddenly, I was hit with feelings of nostalgia for another departed store. The company that was cut to make room for Target —Zellers. I felt longing for the sales racks I had combed through with my mom, the café where I had coconut cream pie with my mother-in-law, my hometown store where the teddy bear mascot beckoned, “Come ride with me! All aboard the Zeddy wheel.” I was so psyched by Target’s arrival, I didn’t even think to miss Zellers.

Stores promise they will always be there. They promise to help everyone, “live better.” So, there’s something uniquely traumatizing about seeing a store being liquidated to the bare studs, with everything for sale, including the fixtures. The space stripped of its former meaning. And going through this process again and again, store after store, what kind of damage is that doing to the Canadian spirit?

Will all these closures scare off potential suitors?

It’s not like I’m totally without selection. There’s places where I can shop for groceries and get a pair of pajamas. Well-lit pharmacies where I can pick up prescriptions and get 40 per cent off on a bestselling paperback.

But there’s something missing. There’s not one place where I can go to for everything, a place I can wander around and get design ideas while I shop for food, and look at clothes I actually want to wear, with sizeable departments so if I’m in a hurry I don’t have to run all over the damn place.

Maybe it’s time to move beyond brick and mortar stores and embrace the future. Order everything online? But sometimes, I just don’t know what I want until I see it.

How can retail be dead anyway when the largest online retailer in the galaxy, Amazon, just opened up a store? And there was a line up around the block to get in?

I can’t help feeling like there’s something missing. Target could have been the one. But, for whatever reason, it wasn’t, and now there’s abandoned retail space that to this day sits empty and in need of revitalization. For a company that has the imagination, there’s a Target/Zellers sized hole to fill. There’s an opportunity for someone to mend the retail therapy gaps. If only someone will just step up and try.

 

Featured Image by Mike Mozart

New Airbnb regulations for the City of Toronto

A new set of regulations for short term rental spaces, such as Airbnb, has been approved by Toronto’s city council.

One of the biggest changes is that basement apartments have now been banned from use as a rental space, leaving many potential landlords who use Airbnb to make some extra cash out in the cold. By limiting guests to people’s primary residences, the city hopes to have better insight into the current housing situation in the city. It also allows more of these suites to be available for long-term contract rentals. One of the new regulations states that only long-term tenants of secondary suites, not the owner, could offer up space for nightly rental.

This step will mean that families who take part in home sharing will now be regulated and formally recognized. Alex Dagg, the policy director for Airbnb Canada said, “This is truly a big step forward for the City of Toronto, in terms of supporting the fact that we have thousands of families in Toronto who have been home-sharing and are now going to be formally recognized and regulated. We look forward to working with the city on the next steps.”

Short term home-sharing hosts will now pay the city $50 per-year for a rental maximum of three rooms, which will be rented for no more than 180 nights per year. The unpredictability of the current housing market in Toronto, along with fluctuating costs, could mean there will be more short-term rentals and less room for long- term tenants.

Those fighting to include secondary suites argued these rules put many homeowners at a disadvantage and they should be allowed flexibility in the choice of renting out spaces they choose. Toronto Mayor John Tory voted in support of the regulations, saying that City Council had the responsibility to put reasonable limits on property use.

Airbnb, which is a San-Francisco-based company that allows users to book home-sharing services online, said that in the past year there were over four million Canadians that have used this service to travel domestically. Earlier this year as part of the government’s pre-budget process, Airbnb sent a letter to the House of Commons finance committee asking the government not to over regulate. This request was unrelated to Toronto’s new regulatory process. So far, the regulations seem to be pleasing to both the government and Airbnb.

The government is set to revisit the rules in 2019 as this will provide a timeline in order to observe any major changes to Toronto housing.

What do you think about these new regulations? Comment below.

Canada needs to invest in green bonds to support infrastructure goals

With the rising costs of climate change and environmental degradation, governments are vying for solutions by investing in green infrastructure.

One of the most effective ways to invest in these types of infrastructure and energy projects is through green bonds — and it’s high time Canada gets the ball rolling. Green bonds are fixed-income securities that are created to fund projects that have environmental and climate benefits.When a project needs to be funded, it is possible to reach out to investors or creditors to support a project through bonds as opposed to obtaining a loan from the bank. Typically, federal governments will issue green bonds from public entities and will also provide targeted tax incentives. The involvement of the government in green bonds lowers risk and improves return  and makes the investment more desirable. This pushes large stock-holders to invest in green projects, and helps further build a green economy.

Canada has seen a total of $4.5 billion in total green bonds issued so far, with Ontario leading in investments in 2014 and 2017 consecutively. The Quebec government has also issued a bond, but the federal government has yet to release green bonds according to a report by RBC Capital Markets. The federal government and private market issuers have the capacity to support $56.3 billion worth of green bonds for green infrastructure in public transit, renewable energy, and electric vehicles.  The support of the federal government is needed to make green bonds competitive in Canada.

Across the world, green bonds are growing as a viable way to build green infrastructure. In London, England, the Climate Bonds Initiative contributes $694 billion that are being used to support low-carbon infrastructure. China has invested $36 billion in green bonds. This type of investment makes it easier to gain government approval on green projects rather than regular development initiatives. Even in India, developers are turning to the rising international trend in green bonds to support building projects as their weakened banks shy away from the non-green alternatives.

Canada has the opportunity to become a global leader by moving away from a purely resource-driven economy. Alongside the $180 billion over 12 years the federal government has committed to spend on infrastructure, green bonds could help support that lofty goal. If the federal government invested heavily in green bonds for environmental infrastructure projects, it could also give the currently depressed resource economies in Western Canada a much needed push towards a green economy.

It shouldn’t only be the responsibility of the provinces to invest in green bonds. The green economy is the way of the future, and green bonds are yet another way to make that a reality. It is time for Canada to take a stand on the international stage and become an environmental leader worldwide.