In the downtown-condo market, distance to the nearest grocery is becoming an evermore important factor for first-time buyers.
On a recent Saturday night, I asked my cab driver to pull over at the corner of Queen and Carlaw so I could grab some Pepto Bismol at the neighbourhood Shopper’s Drug Mart. In the checkout line, I watched in awe as the girl in front of me emptied the contents of her basket onto the counter: a loaf of bread, a tub of Ben & Jerry’s, a box of microwave popcorn, Lay’s Stax, and a copy of US Weekly. “I’ve got my night planned!” she joked.
Once upon a time, we would have never entertained buying groceries from anything but an actual grocery store. But with young people moving to the downtown core in droves, big-box stores are popping up all over—particularly close to new condo builds—and smaller shops, like Rabba Fine Foods, are expanding their food offerings as well.
The practice of making a regular Sunday drive down to the Queen’s Quay Loblaws to purchase a massive haul for the week ahead has given way to picking up odds and ends three or four times a week on the way home from work. One of the most common questions I’m asked by first-time condo-buyers is, “Where is the nearest grocery store?” Many new owners of one-bedroom condo units (even those with parking spots) are ditching their cars, so a short distance to stock up on food—and being able to carry bags back to your pad without your arms falling off—is now of the utmost importance.
Residents of the St. Lawrence Market area, for example, are spoiled beyond belief, and not just because of the pemeal sandwiches and other bounty inside the market. When I first moved there, I hit up Metro (then Dominion). Within a couple of years, Sobeys made its debut on Front Street, and I switched teams. Two years later, a No Frills popped up across the street. Suddenly, the three chains were competing for business, and their customer service and prices all seemed to improve.
Liberty Village, on the other hand, was once considered an isolated neighbourhood; next to the train tracks, on the outskirts of Toronto’s core. But that perspective shifted once a giant Metro was constructed on a vacant lot just south of King. That one building set the precedent for a host of other commercial retail outlets to open, like an LCBO, a GoodLife, and four banks. The area’s condo prices have risen steadily ever since.
For further proof that food stores are a major real-estate asset, look no further than Carlton and Yonge, which used to be a dead zone for groceries. Now the area boasts a sprawling Loblaws, housed in the former Maple Leaf Gardens, with a prepared foods section that is bound to appeal to the hardworking young demographic, which, let’s be honest, is probably not full of Cordon Bleu–calibre chefs.
Condo owners without grocery amenities like to dream (and gossip) about potential developments, too, as has been the case with the former Amsterdam Brewery location at Bathurst and Lake Shore. The spot has long been rumoured to be the future home of yet another Loblaws complex—eventually, anyway. For now, residents of The Atrium at 650 Queen’s Quay will have to continue shopping at the considerably smaller Harbour Green Farms. But that ongoing speculation just goes to show how the slightest potential for grocery stores in close proximity has buyers chomping at the bit.
I remember going down to the convenience store at the base of 230 King St. in my pyjama pants. Condos with grocery stores located on the main floor have become huge selling features for buyers who value convenience, and put a premium on their time. That being said, if those owners don’t have the same location-based luxury that I once did, there seems to be a Subway sandwich shop every two blocks nowadays, so at least they’ll never starve.