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NEWS: Rexall replaces Brunswick House

April 7th, 2016 · No Comments

Pharmacy drugstore chain says it will respect building’s heritage

“This will be a relief to the neighbourhood”—Sue Dexter, HVRA

By Annemarie Brissenden

After one last weekend-long blowout, the doors of the Brunswick House closed for good, leaving the neighbourhood eagerly anticipating the site’s next, presumably quieter and more agreeable, incarnation.

“Identifying a new tenant is good news,” said Joe Cressy (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina), after learning that Rexall, a pharmacy drugstore chain, will be taking over the first floor of the building at 481 Bloor St. W. The betting lounge on the upper floors will be moving out, and landlord Larry Sdao — who in mid March confirmed the agreement with Rexall — said the second and third floors will be available for lease.

“We are excited to be able to come into the Annex neighbourhood,” said Derek Tupling, director of communications and government relations for Rexall.

The Brunswick House has long been a flashpoint in the neighbourhood.

Local residents say the student dive bar — which was operated by Ottawa-based nightclub promoter Abbis Mahmoud through his Dreammind Entertainment Group since 2005 — was a blight on the area that was responsible for late night noise, drunken scuffles, and crime.

“This will be a relief to the neighbourhood, [and for those who] live in close proximity to Bloor Street,” said Sue Dexter of the Harbord Village Residents’ Association, who likened the site to Vesuvius, waiting to explode. “It was very hard for people on Brunswick Avenue to have a good experience in the summer.”

Cressy agreed.

“The Brunswick House was a problematic operator, not just for the local neighbourhood but for people coming into the neighbourhood.”

In November last year, Sdao announced that he would only renew Mahmoud’s lease on a month-to-month basis, and that he was actively seeking a new tenant. Boston Pizza explored opening a sports bar and restaurant in the space, but backed away after community members objected to the possibility of a patio and expressed concerns about whether the chain would mesh with the unique fabric of the street.

Dexter lauded Sdao for behaving responsibly with the options he had, and said the Rexall tenancy will guarantee the building for a very long time, as well as protect the neighbourhood.

“It wouldn’t be my first choice, a big corporate chain,” said Albert Koehl, vice chair of the Annex Residents’ Association, stressing he was speaking only for himself, and needed more time to process the announcement.

Although Cressy acknowledged that if the City of Toronto owned the building he could envision several different uses, he characterized “this [outcome as] a vast improvement on the other options”.

“Some people had that nostalgic connection to the Brunswick House,” conceded Dexter. “But it’s a big enough space; you have to have something reasonably big to afford it. It’s better to have a benign influence on the neighbourhood, and having the building restored is great.”

Tupling said Rexall is keenly aware of the community’s attachment to the building and that his company plans to reach out to local residents’ and business associations right from the outset.

“We are looking forward to becoming part of the community,” he said, noting that pharmacies are the face of healthcare in the community and provide quick access to high quality services.

Likening the Brunswick House location to the chain’s other urban outposts at Queen Street West and University Avenue; Church and Front streets; and College Street and Spadina Avenue, Tupling said Rexall was attracted to the site because it is in an urban community with high foot traffic.

He said Rexall wants to “create a flagship location that embraces the entire community”, and is doing something it has never done before: it is bringing in an expert to help build the site.

“Our intention is to respect and maintain as much of the building’s historical and architectural integrity as possible.”

Sdao said that is what sold him on Rexall.

“They have a genuine approach and want to respect the heritage, design, and what the building has been for a long time.”

Neither Sdao nor Tupling would speculate on when the store would be open for business; they both pointed out that renovations to the heritage building would take time.

“Rexall and I, we want to do it right,” explained Sdao. “These projects don’t happen overnight.”

“There’s some things in the building that have gotten long in the tooth, so to speak, and we want to look at opportunities to revitalize and incorporate those into the design of the store,” Tupling added.

“We want to make sure that when the doors open, everyone is as happy as much as possible with the result.”

A previous version of this article appeared on March 23, 2016.


Brunswick on the block: Notorious bar on month-to-month lease (December 2015) by Annemarie Brissenden

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