I moved into this community over 22 years ago and even back then, neighbours would talk about how the plaza would be torn down and condos would go up. Finally the day has come, a change to the neighbourhood.
Twenty-two years ago there were two small plazas serving the Sunnylea/Humber Bay communities. One was a small plaza at the corner of Prince Edward Drive and Berry Road that included an IGA and Romi’s Pizza that was replaced by townhouses and the second is the Stonegate Plaza at the corner of Stephen Drive and Berry Road. The Stonegate plaza has been purchased by the Van Dyk Group of Companies and the neighbourhood will undergo a dramatic change.
I am thinking of how this plaza has changed over the years as many businesses came and went (the Laundromat, the Polish deli, the Hasty Market, the Bank of Montreal, the dry cleaners, Benny’s Restaurant). It was very apparent that the plaza was underutilized and change was probably needed. It has served as a convenient hub for this community. Here are some memories:
The Busy Bee Bargain store picked up the dry cleaning business after the last owner closed the store. In addition to selling housewares, stationery, school supplies and other dollar store type items, this store has been very convenient for those ‘rush items’ such as Bristol board for school projects, light bulbs, batteries and seasonal items. The owner of the store has worked long hours over the years and when you walk in you say what you are looking for and he points you to the right aisle. It was very rare that he didn’t have what you were looking for. Some days one would enter the store and hear current day music blaring throughout the store and on other days it would be classical music. Some days I thought I should enter the store with earplugs on!
The addition of the Stonegate Community Health Centre brought health services and healthy living programs to this community which has a high proportion of low income families. They offer everything from children and senior programs, exercise and art programs, Good Food box program, the local Stonegate Farmer’s Market, medical services and community gardens.
The Stonegate Community store (run by local churches to support local programs) has been a great place to drop off items for resale and find a few treasures when you are dropping off items.
Valumart has been a convenient place to shop for 30 years. Because of its size you know where everything is, so when you need a few last minute dinner items it has been so handy to just pop in and out. People come off the bus from work and they make a stop in the store. Over the years the employees have come to know me and I have come to know them. If I was looking for a specific item that was not in the store, I could have a conversation with the employees about it and they would try and get the product. I would have conversations with the employees about their families and they would ask about mine.
The store is closing on February 1st. I was in the store twice last week and I could feel the lump building up in my throat. The freezers were empty, there was no produce or dairy products on the shelves and the shelves were almost empty as they offered 50% off sale on Friday to clear the few remaining items. It really was sad, a slow death as one of the cashier’s said to me. Some have jobs that they will go onto and others will take the time to decide what they want to do after 29-30 years of working for the Potachnik’s.
The Van Dyk group held an info night in September 2013 and the church was packed. The residents of the community were concerned about how the area would change and basically wanted to be sure that it was still a hub for the community, accessible, provided what the community needed, included green space and that housing was affordable.
In looking at their website for the development of the Stonegate plaza, so far the only plans are for the demolition of the site over the next year. The auto repair shop closed on November 1st and has been sitting idle behind a temporary fence which also enclosed the local basketball court/hockey area for the kids making it inaccessible. The plans are for another grocery store, retail, housing and the Stonegate community health centre, but it doesn’t look like anything is official yet or approved.
With change, hopefully comes great opportunities and hopefully that change will be good and the area will continue to be a hub for all in the community. That’s what makes this area so unique and special…..