If you’re looking for a safe space to spark an L in Kensington, light one up at Hot Box Café. A mainstay of the Market, Hot Box’s green approach to urban living has made it a popular destination for artists and potheads for over 11 years. It has provided a platform for artists, DJs, musicians and comedians to showcase their talents. On a perfect summer day, one might find the backyard patio packed with an assortment of sunworshippers and tokers. But now Hot Box is being forced to move from their current location at 191 Baldwin to Roach-O-Rama at 204 Augusta. Naturally I wondered what the hell’s up with that? I heard through the Grapevine Press that the building was up for grabs and some suit with hipster aspirations is going to throw up a Jimmy’s Coffee in its place. Ewww….gross. You’d think these people would know better after what happened when Starfucks tried to set foot in the Market but I guess somebody grew one bigass set of donkeynuts. Just means there’s more scrotum to kick, but anyways where was I? Oh yeah, for those of us who’ve watched Hot Box Café grow from a tiny headshop into a downhome restaurant / café over the years, this is sad news. It marks the end of an era for one of the few remaining greenspots in the heart of Toronto, and the beginning of a disturbing trend that has been stealthily creeping up on this vibrant community. I caught up with Abi Roach, owner of Hot Box Café to get her side of the story.
F: Recently I received news that Hot Box is going to be moving, and I’d just like you to explain why this is happening.
A: Well, the building’s been for sale for seven years, since we moved in here essentially, and it’s finally sold after all this time and the guy who bought it is a real estate guy. He’s not willing to make compromises ,or be nice or be polite or anything of the sort so we gotta go, you know? We have one month to move out.
F: How do members of the community feel about this move?
A: Well, they think that for a business that has been here for eleven years to have it be kicked out this building by someone who’s been nothing but rude to the community, is kind of a slap in the face to the community, and not a great way to come into a neighbourhood that’s so close-knit. And then the people that have been in this building are really upset because they’re going to lose $400 or $500 a week each, and that’s a big hit for the market. Come wintertime there are not a lot of people here and they’re not spending a lot of money. Having businesses losing support for almost a decade is a hard hit for them to take as well. So in this neighbourhood, if there’s one business that has a hard time, everybody has a hard time. So it’s not just a problem of one individual business, it’s a problem for the whole community.
F: As a result of this, do you think Kensington Market is in danger of being gentrified?
A: I think Kensington Market has become gentrified. And it’s not because we’re moving, it’s because of what’s happening. Rents are too high, the taxes are too high, people can’t afford to stay. As soon as their lease runs out, the landlord gets a commercial lease and just jacks up the rent. People who own the businesses around here and own their buildings can’t afford the land taxes; they’re too high, we’re not getting the services we used to get in the neighbourhood, so the taxes we pay are even more difficult. European Meats was here for many, many years and it had a lot of people coming down to the neighbourhood. When European Meats moved up to North York, the community lost probably 10,000 people a month that would come down to the neighbourhood to go to European Meats and buy groceries. So you’ve lost a huge portion of people that come down to the neighbourhood for the purpose that it’s meant for, which is a market, and then you walk around here on a Pedestrian Sunday, quote on quote, and it’s a whole bunch of people from the suburbs with lots of cameras and kids but nobody’s got a shopping bag in their hands and this is the problem that this neighbourhood is running into, is that now it’s a tourist attraction. People don’t want to spend money here because they’re just here to gawk and take pictures and say, “Oh, we’re in Kensington Market, it’s so coo!” So in the end, they don’t spend any money and that puts us all as the risk at being gone, so it’s not just me, it’s everybody you know? What’s happened here is that it’s not a marijuana problem, cuz it’s no issue with the marijuana, it’s a city problem, you know?
F: As a result of this move, how do you plan to adapt to this change?
A: Well we’re not going to be a restaurant anymore, since we can’t have a patio and a restaurant license. We’re just going to sell bottles of pop, chips and things in bags that are healthy, support people in the neighbourhood and buy locally like we always do instead of going to the wholesalers uptown like Costco or whateve. We’ll go around in the neighbourhood here and buy cases of Malta and Ting and Caribbean Corner and still support the neighbourhood, rather than going to Costco’s. That’ s what’s very important for me at The Hotbox ; it’s supporting the community.
F: Are you still going to continue holding your artistic events?
A: Yes of course! Yes, well everything’s going to be the same. It’s just going to be in a different location with new artwork and a different deck, and it’s orange and green the same way. It’s got the same vibe and it has dimmers , the lights, which I’m very excited about so that’s going to be very nice and we can dim the lights whenever we want and I think it’ll be great and more private – it’s nice. It’ll be good; I think it’s a good change. I’m not so upset about the fact that we had to move, we’re more upset about the fact we that had no time and no notice to move, you know, and for someone who’s been in the same place for eleven years to get no notice from her landlord or from the new building owner and had to find out through blogto.com that we had to move out, that’s a sad fact for me.
F: Do you plan on having a housewarming shindig at the new location?
A: At the old location on the 14th of September we’re doing an All You Can Eat blowout, so it’s going to be like $10 – $15 and all you can eat cuz we have to get rid of all our food and on the 15th of September we’re going to do a “See ya later” kind of party here, and then when we’re ready over there next month we’ll do a grand opening party.
F: How do you see Hot Box Café evolving in the future?
A: I think now it’s evolved a lot and it’s going backwards which is okay; we’re downsizing to a smaller size. Rents were out of control last year so much that we were spending almost $15,000 a month just to pay the landlord. So I think for now we’re going to keep going with what we have and just make it the best way we can and see what happens from there.
F: When you first started out, what was your biggest obstacle that you had to overcome?
A: I was 20 years old and I didn’t know anything about anything! And I thought I knew everything. Now I’m 34 and I know a lot more and I’ve experienced a lot more and that obstacle’s gone with age. With age comes intelligence and experience.
F: Wonderful! Thank you for your time Abi.
A: No problem!
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