Even amid the mismatched block of rickety row-houses and beat-up cottages that flank Richmond Street West near Bathurst, there’s one building that still looks out of place. More shed than house, its windowless two-storey shroud of drab steel siding faces a concrete front yard pockmarked with crotch-level weeds.
“This is all how I bought it,” says Gary Duke, stepping inside carefully. At the entranceway, he points through a rotting wall to the dark-blue stucco of the house next door. “Kinda like this.” Duke, whose family has owned Duke’s Cycle on Queen Street West for nearly a century, paid $180,000 back in 2000 for what was then an air-conditioning repair workshop used by two brothers, one of whom lived upstairs. The place looks like it’s been abandoned for a half-century: Patchwork sheets of plywood cover the whole interior front wall, the frames of boarded-up windows that once overlooked a back alley bend at horror-movie angles, and you can’t step anywhere without something crunching underfoot. The brothers left behind their guardian’s ashes in a gold tin above one doorframe. On the second floor, there’s a single, nickel-sized peep-hole through which you can peer out.
In-the-know neighbours have long whispered that Duke owned the building and assumed that he must have been storing bikes there. While Duke’s name is on the title, Nikolau Restaurant Equipment, the kitchen-supply store a few doors down from Duke’s Cycle, had rented it from him until recently. Before they started moving out in July, the building had been filled with rows of shelving piled high with plates and bowls and glasses. Employees could walk across the alley from the store’s rear entrance to grab items, explains Larry Solakis, co-owner of Nikolau’s. “Anything we had in there was waterproof and everything-else-proof,” he says. It had to be: Rats, raccoons, and skunks took turns colonizing the property, according to Duke.
The place is finally empty, and soon enough, 616 Richmond will be gone altogether. It’s been bought by Brad Lamb’s development company for $1.3 million, over seven times what Duke paid for it, and will be demolished along with most of the remaining houses on Richmond to make way for The Harlowe, a planned 14-storey-tall condo building. (Another of the seven houses slated to disappear is the bright-yellow cottage next door at 618 Richmond St. W., which Duke bought in 2001 for $280,000 and has rented out to employees and family members ever since. That one also sold for $1.3 million.)
In the meantime, Solakis says he’s found two large storage units out near Eglinton Avenue and the Don Valley for Nikolau to use. Will he miss 616 Richmond? “Absolutely, absolutely,” says Solakis. “The place is a hell-hole. There’s no doubt about that. But, you know, it was convenient. That’s the main thing.” As for Duke? “I did have a quick sentimental moment the other day,” he admits, “but it quickly passed.”
WHAT THE NEIGHBOURS THINK
We went door-to-door and asked the neighbours what they
thought went on in 616 Richmond. Here are some of their theories:
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