Etobicoke's Business Improvement Areas (BIA) both young and old are relying on the power of their numbers to achieve the three 'Bs' integral to their members' joint success - beautification, branding and bolstering business.
"No man is an island. You need people to work together in order to have a successful BIA," said Laura Price, chair of Etobicoke's longest-running BIA in The Kingsway. "BIAs really do work, as long as everyone works co-operatively to serve the best interests of their members."
Currently, Etobicoke boasts seven bustling BIAs, which, essentially, are associations consisting of commercial property owners and business tenants within defined areas who work together with the city to create "thriving, competitive, and safe business areas that attract shoppers, diners, tourists, and new businesses."
According to city stats, together, the 32,000 businesses that make up Toronto's 72 BIAs generate more than $25 million in funding towards street and sidewalk improvements, including clean street/graffiti-removal campaigns (beautification), marketing and promotional campaigns (branding), and street festivals and other events designed to bring people out to the BIA and introduce potential new customers to the products and services available within them (bolstering business).
Even though The Kingsway BIA has been around since 1973, Price said its board members are working constantly to build and improve upon their past efforts and successes towards those ends.
"We have our finger on the pulse and we try and listen to all of our merchants and property owners as to their concerns and wishes and try to accommodate them," she said. "You're never going to please everybody, but we try and appeal to all of the merchants."
One of The Kingsway BIA's biggest achievements to date is the success of its annual Taste of The Kingsway Festival, which drew close to 250,000 people last September and won the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA) Festival Award.
"It's one of the top 100 festivals in Ontario," Price said. "While it's largely for the restaurants and the bars and pubs and whatnot, it also gives the other merchants an opportunity to showcase their products, giving shoppers a reason to come back to The Kingsway."
In the short but successful five years since establishing north Etobicoke's first - and, to date, only - BIA in 2007, the members of Albion Islington Square BIA have also already taken great strides towards the third B (bolstering business).
Like The Kingsway BIA's success with the Taste of the Kingsway Festival, the "very vibrant and multicultural" 200-strong membership of Etobicoke's youngest BIA has seen their signature event, the Fusion of Taste Festival, grow from just 5,000 people in 2008 to more than 40,000 last year.
"Each year we try to incorporate a new thing in our festival to create anticipation and something new people can look forward to. Last year, it was a fashion show, the year before that a children's dance competition," said Albion Islington Square BIA co-ordinator Shalini Srivastava, noting that this year's festival on July 21 will boast a Culinary Fest and performances by three bands catering to the area's diverse population - a West Indian band, a Bollywood band and a Punjabi band. "We've had people from all over come to the festival, from Brampton, from Malton, from Mississauga, from anywhere the South Asian community is big - all potential new customers."
Now that the festival has taken on a life of it's own, Srivastava said the BIA's focus has shifted to the most aesthetic of the three Bs - beautification.
"We now have pole lights up year-round, there are 25 planters in the area right now, but by July we will have 68, and then next we are trying to put up signage at the four corners, indicating that you're coming into the BIA," she said, noting that a conscious effort is also being made to include the BIA's logo on much of the street furniture to help with branding. "It's been six years and we've done a lot. People from the community are very, very happy...businesses have grown and property values have gone up."
Beatification is also a key ingredient to the success of The Kingsway BIA and its 200 business members.
That work, Price said, includes ongoing maintenance and upkeep of the area's landscaping, a graffiti removal program, the installation of wrought iron benches, new signage throughout the BIA, as well as an upcoming initiative to install an entranceway to the BIA at Montgomery Road.
"It's all about taking a personal investment and a personal reflection of what we do as to what the area looks like," she said. "It's all about taking pride in our community and trying to keep it nice and clean."
That pride in the community also extends to charity work. Both The Kingsway and Albion Islington Square BIAs have a strong focus on giving back - especially to causes close to their communities.
Out of the Cold, which in Etobicoke runs out of All Saints' Kingsway every Friday night from November to the end of March, is a program that offers "food, fellowship and shelter" to disadvantaged people in the community. For the last three years, The Kingsway BIA has partnered with Out of the Cold on fundraising initiatives, including the ever-popular Carolling in the Kingsway event, which annually raises in excess of $10,000 for the program.
The Albion Islington Square BIA has similarly helped to raise funds and awareness for local charities like Youth Without Shelter and Ernestine's Women's Shelter, as well as the Heart and Stroke Foundation, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and this year's charity, the Tiger Jeet Singh Foundation.