What makes a great neighbourhood

Julie Mitchell discusses what makes a great neighbourhood. She is the owner of Parcel Design & Torq. Aside from what makes a great neighbourhood she discusses how she chose Leslieville as a place for her family & business before Leslieville was cool. What to look for a selecting a great neighbourhood. Why Leslieville is great? Why its important to support small business owners in your are.

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Davelle:              Welcome to The Morrison Report. I wanted to create a podcast that would give people insights into the Toronto real estate market. You can follow me on Twitter at Davelle Morrison and on Instagram as Davelle Morrison, and you can like my business page on Facebook. On today’s episode we have Julie Mitchell who is the founder of Parcel Design, an integrative, creative firm of strategists, designers and storytellers. Parcel Design has recently been on Chatelaine and PROFIT Magazine’s Top 100 list, and Parcel has been named one of the top 500 fastest growing companies in Canada. Recently, Julie delved into the world of fitness by opening up a spinning studio called Torq in Leslieville. Julie was one of the first people I know who moved to Leslieville.

So Julie, I really wanted to ask you- What was it that originally brought you to Leslieville?

Julie:                    Well, I moved into what is probably not considered Leslieville proper, but I moved onto DeGrassi Street way back in 1995. Shortly after finishing school I was renting and thought it would be interesting to get into the housing market so I proposed to my mother that we purchase a house together that had separate living arrangements, of course. So at the time, my mother was living in Europe and she gave me three conditions to purchase a home. One was that we absolutely had to be north of Gerrard, it needed to be detached, and we must have parking. And of course there was nothing that fit that description in our price range so I ended up finding this fantastic house on DeGrassi, and this was pre-internet so I had to mail my mother photos and I went ahead and purchased the home and told her that she would love it, which she did. So she lived abroad for a few years and I rented her portion of the house and continued there for 15 years. So from the house on DeGrassi we ended up moving just down the street to a house that’s basically at Queen and Carlaw and we just happened to walk by, saw this great house, it was detached, it did have parking, and it just suited us more. So we moved into that house six years ago and that house is right in the heart of Leslieville.

Davelle:              Amazing. So your house on DeGrassi, if you don’t mind telling our listeners- How much did you pay for that back in 1995?

Julie:                    $229,000

Davelle:              Wow. And so what made you think that that was going to be a hip, cool, happening place to live? What was attractive to you back then?

Julie:                    I would say I really didn’t know at that time. What I liked was that it felt pretty close to downtown, so about as close to downtown as we could be, really without being in Cabbagetown. So I grew up in the East End; I wasn’t as familiar- I grew up more around Danforth and Jones area, so I really had no idea that it would be the neighborhood that it’s come to be. In fact in the early years there was nothing on Queen Street. Everything that we did was on the Danforth. And now I never go to the Danforth; it feels like a tourist town and it’s just not an area that we spend any time. So I’d say that that transition to feeling like it had its own neighborhood, that it had its own kind of lifestyle in Leslieville- I would say that really started to happen around 2005 and there were some great little restaurants that opened way back. Anyone who’s been here for awhile would remember Barrio and then of course some of the staples like Bonjour Brioche have been around us and Joy Bistro have been around forever, but Barrio was one of the first businesses/restaurants that really put Leslieville on the map.

Davelle:              Cool. That’s awesome. And then you decided to buy a building for your business there. Again, why did you decide to locate close to home and in that same neighborhood?

Julie:                    I figured out a long time ago that I didn’t want to spend any time in my car so I really just did not want to commute. Had the real estate bug pretty early from this initial purchase back when I was 25 and there was a vacant building that I used to pass by en route to the Mayfair Club and it had been for sale for quite awhile, and one day I thought, “You know what? I’m going to go take a look at that building.” So that was in 2006 so ended up buying that building. It was pretty crazy-looking. A lot of people looked at it but no one really wanted to buy it because it just required so much work but I love a good renovation project so decided that that would be a good home for Parcel. Before moving into that space we were located in the Corktown neighborhood. I purchased a little row house on Queen Street near River and Parcel was there for about two years but we outgrew it pretty quickly. So the building was a side investment but it ended up being a fantastic location for our business and certainly the value of the property that we’re in now has gone up about four times what it was when we originally purchased.

Davelle:              Wow, that’s amazing. That really is. And it’s great that you saw the potential and fixed it up. Did you have to do the same thing with the house that you’re in now? You had to sort of see the potential and fix it up or was it already [crosstalk 00:05:55] done?

Julie:                    No, I didn’t and- I wanted to. I actually was entrusted in- I had my wishlist for what this new home would be and I wanted to buy something that hadn’t been touched in the last 50/60 years so that I could do it my way and then of course realized that I was not able to afford kind of house that we wanted and we ended up buying a home that was completely renovated, actually by a real estate agent. So he had done the entire renovation and sold it to a woman and she was only living there for about eight months and then she decided to sell so when we purchased it was completely renovated. So not what I expected, but still very happy with the house.

Davelle:              Awesome, that’s great. And so now you decided to open up a spinning studio in the neighborhood. So tell us whether you decided to rent the building or buy the building and then why you, of course, decided to have a business in the same neighborhood again.

Julie:                    Sure. Well, I rent that space and the space is right on Queen Street. It’s on the main floor of a building that has apartments above it so it’s right on Queen Street just a little bit east of Carlaw. And like the previous renovation project it was in pretty rough shape when I looked at it. So managed to secure a long-term lease on that property, have put a lot into it in terms of the construction renovation investment, but I just was ready to try something new. I think that the interesting thing about Torq is that it’s a great [inaudible 00:07:27] for what we do at my grand strategy firm Parcel. So a lot of organizations look to kind of fix the disconnect between their brand and their business when they get to a place where they have a successful business and then they decide they want to invest in the brand, where with Torq, we’ve been able to at the outset really invest in the brand upfront and make it the type of company that we want it to be.

So there was a popular indoor cycling studio in the East End that shut down about six months ago, so the timing was right. We knew that the audience was here and that the community was interested. I grew up in retail so I love the idea of being really part of the community. Parcel, although we’re located in the neighborhood, we don’t really have [inaudible 00:08:14] in the community so I love the idea of having a business where you’re very integrated into the community and being on that main street- so Queen Street is our main street in Leslieville and being on the ground floor is pretty fantastic for us as well.

Davelle:              Awesome. And your husband teaches spinning now too?

Julie:                    Yes, Derek teaches two spinning classes a week at Torq.

Davelle:              Awesome. And how did you decide that spinning was going to be your next challenge or business to take on after you were at Parcel for so long?

Julie:                    Well I’m fairly impetuous so I probably should have spent a little bit more time working through this. But I think that I travel quite a bit and when I’m traveling, one of the things that I love to do is try out other boutique fitness studios. And when I would come back to Toronto I was just disappointed by what the offer was. So I’d go to one place and I would love the instructor but I’d feel like the studio was second rate or the bikes were not maintained properly, or the sound wasn’t great. So really, Torq is my vision to bring all of the best of what I’ve seen out there into one studio that’s also in my neighborhood.

Davelle:              You know it’s cool, and I love the classes there and I love working out as well too, and I certainly had gone to the previous spin studio in Leslieville and I had recently gone to New York to the big one that everyone goes into. And what I loved about your studio is that it looks beautiful, the bikes are really smooth … But it doesn’t have any of the boppiness of what I didn’t like about some of the other studios, and the instructors are great. So it’s awesome. Congratulations with it.

Julie:                    Thank you, and I think the other thing for us that’s really key in the success of that business is understanding the neighborhood and the community. And Leslieville is very diverse and when you come into our space, you see that in the clientele and we’re trying to reflect that in our team as well. So we don’t want to have a type and that’s one of the great things about this neighborhood is that while it’s being gentrified, it still feels like we’ve been able to maintain that diversity and we’re coexisting- all sorts of different people with different lifestyles- are coexisting in this neighborhood and that’s what really gives it the color.

Davelle:              Perfect. That’s awesome. And so what else do you still like about the neighborhood? Obviously you’re pretty very vested in Leslieville, so obviously you don’t want to leave. What is it you love about the neighborhood that works so well for your family and your business?

Julie:                    Well, proximity to just about everything. So it’s very rare that we have to leave. Certainly we don’t have to leave for restaurants or for fitness or even for salons and personal appointments, nail care, that type of thing. It has all of that, but the accessibility is amazing. Being right on that Queen Street [inaudible 00:10:53] is fantastic. We’re right next to the Don Valley Parkway.

One of the other things that’s really interesting about the Leslieville area is there are many gorgeous old trees. So on Heward and on Moore Street- if you walk down Moore Street south of Eastern, or on Heward south of Queen, the trees are fantastic. And you don’t see that too often in these downtown neighborhoods. A lot of the trees were cut down and they just don’t have that same majestic look to them. So I definitely love that, and there’s also a number of just little hidden parks that really only the residents know about that are there for discovering, and I love that as well.

Davelle:              Awesome. So if you were going to give hints to other homeowners or house hunters out there who are looking to try to figure out what their next up and coming neighborhood might be… Do you have any suggestions to them as to what you think they should look for in trying to spot out a neighborhood that isn’t obviously as established as Leslieville yet, but certainly might come to that point, at some point?

Julie:                    Well I think anything slightly east and north of here- I went into Taylor Creek Park and that’s up in the O’Connor and Coxwell area, and there’s quite a number of homes: bungalows, wide streets, and I think that area is still fairly affordable. And then of course just east of Leslieville in the Little India area, there’s plenty of homes there that are lovely homes. And I think one of the key things is- there is so many people- I have a friend that was recently trying to find an apartment in this area, and a lot of people want to live here but they don’t necessarily want to buy a home. So I think that there’s a huge opportunity to create basement apartments or third level apartments to really help with those purchase decisions. I’m seeing a lot of that and certainly a lot of need for that because there’s a real dearth of great single or two-person apartments.

Davelle:              That’s funny that you actually mention that because I did buy a building at Jones and Gerrard last year that I’ve had under construction, and I’ve been turning it into a two-unit building. So I have actually been taking through quite a few perspective tenants for one-bedroom apartments and two-bedroom apartments and you’re right, there’s a huge demand for people who would like to live in the neighborhood. They love the neighborhood, they want to rent in the neighborhood. And there aren’t a lot of condos in Leslieville the same way that there is downtown, whether it’s Corktown or on the west side of the city. So their only opportunity to find a rental opportunity is in some of the houses that have one or two units available for rent. So I’ve definitely been noticing that activity myself too.

And so obviously you believe that owning is very important. So for your kids, when they grow up, do you feel that you’re going to help them buy a place in the same neighborhood or another neighborhood that they choose? Or what’s your approach to how expensive the real estate is becoming and what your kids will face when they get there?

Julie:                    To be honest I haven’t given that much thought. I have one child; he’s eight years old and well his home ownership is pretty far from my radar right now so I haven’t thought a lot about that. I can say that when I was growing up, because I really needed to contribute to my own education and there wasn’t a lot of extra money for frivolous things, I would say that my attitude is probably different than it was when I was younger, when I believed that children should be earning their own way and working their summers to save for their education. Because that’s what I had to do, I now recognize that that might not be the best philosophy and I think it’s certainly nice if you’re able to provide your children with what they need to get a jump start to make that home purchase. I imagine that’s probably where my future lies.

Davelle:              Yeah, that makes a lot of sense, definitely. Although I still think it’s important for all the kids to have summer jobs and after-school jobs just so that they can earn some of their own money, at least anyways.

Julie:                    Well, we’re doing that. We have Charlie working at Torq. Five dollars an hour.

Davelle:              That’s good. That’s very good. You gotta start somewhere, right? It makes a lot of sense.

Julie:                    Exactly.

Davelle:              And would you say that a lot of your employees live in the same neighborhood as well? Whether at Parcel or at Torq?

Julie:                    I would say that’s probably the case for about 80%. Yes. And many have moved into this neighborhood, so discovered this neighborhood by working here first and then deciding to move to this side of Toronto.

Davelle:              Perfect. And why do you think it’s important for residents to support local businesses in the area?

Julie:                    Well, as I’m discovering, the independent business on that scale- it’s pretty tough and you’re 100% relying on your community and so I think you’re contributing to a more interesting, diverse neighborhood. So certainly in the three weeks that Torq has been operating, we get a lot of feedback around how wonderful it is to have something like this in the neighborhood. It’s exciting for people to have these resources in walking distance to home. So the more we have of that, the more successful those independent businesses are, the more we’re going to attract like-minded businesses. So we’ve got Good Neighbour at Queen and Carlaw which is fantastic for clothing. We’ve got a couple of great stores that specialize in baby and children’s clothing and gifts. We’ve got amazing galleries. Parts Gallery is fantastic. I’ve got a few pieces from Parts Gallery. And flower shops and just everything. It’s amazing. You don’t have to ever get in your car.

Davelle:              Yeah, I think that is pretty awesome. I find it interesting. I live at Yonge and Eglinton and what I do notice here is I don’t think that the residents support the businesses in my neighborhood enough. So I see that the businesses at Yonge and Eglinton along Yonge Street- there’s a lot of them up for sale, and there’s a lot that close down quite regularly because they can’t make it. And I think that part of the problem is that people in my neighborhood don’t necessarily support the businesses in their neighborhood. It’s one of the reasons why I think that Leslieville is such a gem in that it seems as though the people who live there actually support the businesses that are there.

Julie:                    Yeah-

Davelle:              And so I might be at Yonge and Eglinton but a lot of times, I might go down to some of the cool stuff in Leslieville because there aren’t as many things in my neighborhood.

Julie:                    And I can visualize what that is like and I think it’s also that, whether you’re on Yonge Street or Mount Pleasant or Bayview, it feels like it’s a little bit more of a transit street. It’s more of a thoroughfare. Not so much Bayview, that one feels a little more neighborhoody to me, but I can see that the people who are living in the area don’t necessarily connect to the street as part of their community. Their community feels like it’s more contained than the residential streets and linked to the schools as opposed to the main strip businesses.

Davelle:              Yeah, definitely. I think it’s kind of sad because I certainly do notice that in other neighborhoods and think, “Well, if the people who lived in those areas would support their businesses, I think their neighborhoods would be a little bit better.” It’s one of the things that I think I notice, just as an aside, with the internet sometimes it concerns me that I see so many people shopping online that I see it has an impact on retail. And I think, if I’m selling a home to a client, one of the reasons why they like a nice neighborhood is because they like the retailers. They like that there’s the coffee shop, the fitness studio, the retail store. All those things are really important. And so if people in neighborhoods don’t support those businesses, I actually do believe that it does impact the saleability of their neighborhood on some level.

Julie:                    Absolutely.

Davelle:              Yeah.

Julie:                    Yeah I totally agree.

Davelle:              So yeah, I think it’s a great thing that Leslieville has become this community that people do believe in supporting each other and supporting the businesses. For sure. And so thank you so much, Julie, for chatting with us today. I know you wanted to offer any first-timers who want to try Torq, which is located at Queen Street East and Carlaw, right in the heart of Leslieville, 40% off the two-ride package if they use the secret code “Neighbor”. I guess maybe not so secret now. That would translate to $24 for two rides instead of $40. Anything else you’d like to add, Julie? Before you go?

Julie:                    No, thank you. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you, Davelle. And I look forward to hearing more of your posts.

Davelle:              Awesome. Thank you so much Julie for the interview today. Thanks again for joining us today for Toronto Real Estate Market Insights, and you can reach out to me at Davelle@BosleyRealEstate.com, or on Twitter at Davelle Morrison. See you soon. Thanks for listening.