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Until a few years ago,

I lived in a downtown Toronto neighbourhood that was brimming with mom-and-pop shops -- little family-run cafs, bakeries and grocery stores that gave the area a unique quality infrequently seen in la...


September 1, 2001  


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I lived in a downtown Toronto neighbourhood that was brimming with mom-and-pop shops — little family-run cafs, bakeries and grocery stores that gave the area a unique quality infrequently seen in large cities.

To me, there was nothing like being able find just-brewed espresso, newly baked bread, and fresh fruit and flowers — all within a block of home. There was also the bonus of being warmly greeted by the owners of these shops — several of whom had been peddling their wares for 50 years.

During the eight years I spent in the neighbourhood, I witnessed a big change in the dynamics of the area. Previously popular among locals for its good restaurants and food stores, the locale rapidly turned into one of the city’s most trendy districts for dining and shopping.

While some of the smaller stores in the area were bought out by larger businesses for handsome sums, others were determined to remain. But of those that decided to stay put, many found they couldn’t complete with the onslaught of Starbucks and Blockbusters, not to mention the glut of upscale eateries and martini bars.

I always marvelled at how some of the small businesses did manage to endure — and stay competitive with the larger outfits. For it takes some hard work to peddle espresso in a “non-fat, soy latte with extra foam” kind of world.

As this month’s cover story (Thinking Big, p. 16) depicts, mom-and-pop shops in the Canadian cabling industry face many of the same issues as these neighbourhood haunts. While they are peddling a much different lineup of goods, these small businesses are all attempting to stay alive alongside much larger corporations.

It is not a new story — being a small fish in the big business pond. Yet, what is modern, and perhaps most interesting, are the methods employed by these companies to give them staying power. As those we spoke to found out, simply obtaining funding and arranging a good product line-up is generally not enough to keep the ball rolling.

While many of these smaller outfits come and go, we found that many others are finding and keeping their niche in the growing cabling and telecom marketplace in this country. And as a result, the companies — and their customers — are reaping many of the benefits of small versus large.

Speaking of small versus large…these days I live in an area that is a lot less trendy than my previous digs, but holds a different kind of charm. I find it a lively mixture of family-run food shops where you are always greeted warmly, and upscale pizzeria chains where a sundried tomato and pesto slice can still be had at 2:00 a.m.

To me, this business blend is proof that a healthy co-existence of small and large is possible in a neighbourhood. And as our cover story points out — it is proving feasible in the cabling world as well.


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