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The Changing Character of Ethnic Retail - Case Studies within the GTA


The Changing Character of Ethnic Retail - Case Studies within the GTA

By Zhixi Cecilia Zhuang and Dr. Tony Hernandez 

Canada has long been a country of immigrants.  As waves of immigrants have made Canada their home, new ethnic communities and neighbourhoods have emerged and flourished.  Within Canada's major urban markets these ethnic areas have over time developed a range of social and economic structures to cater to diverse sets of ethno-cultural needs.  One of the most visible and striking elements of such multiculturalism is physically manifested in the bricks-and-mortar of the commercial structure. Throughout Canada's major cities it is possible to identify a mix of specialty retail areas (comprised of strips, malls and most recently power centres) that provide access to a wide range of ethnic goods and services.  While these areas may have developed primarily to serve the needs of first and second generation immigrants, over time they have evolved to symbolize commercial beacons of Canadian society - serving the needs of a wide spectrum of consumers and in many cases acting as tourist attractions in their own right.  In a Toronto context, for example, Little Italy, Greektown, India Bazaar, Little Portugal and Chinatown are all well-known neighbourhoods that form part of the core urban fabric of Toronto.

Current demographic trends point to an increasing reliance on immigration to fuel future population growth and to meet our future labour force needs.  Canada needs to attract educated new immigrants to maintain population growth and remain globally competitive.  Within the next decade, largely as a result of our aging population, we will see the Canadian demographic transition from natural increase to decrease (i.e., more deaths than births each year).  We are already seeing in the major markets of Toronto and Vancouver that it will not be long before visible minorities become the visible majority.  As a result, the mainstreaming of 'ethnic consumption' is now firmly placed on the radar screens of many retail organizations in Canada.

This report is the first in a series of research reports on the changing character of ethnic retailing in Canada.  This report focuses its attention on ethnic retailing within the Greater Toronto Area, Canada's largest urban market.  Cases studies of retail change are presented across four established ethnic retail areas, namely: Corso Italia, Gerrard India Bazaar, East Chinatown and Pacific Mall.  These retail vignettes provide insights into the changing character of Toronto's ethnic strips and malls, and most critically reveal marked differences in the manner in which these ethnic retail areas have evolved.  The report highlights the importance of ethnic retailing and the increasing diversity of ethnic retail activity in the Greater Toronto Area.

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