Little Jamaica Eglinton Avenue West

Business owners are hoping that a $1 million federal grant aimed at revitalizing Little Jamaica will help to boost the profile of the historic community in Toronto.

The owners said on Sunday the money is coming at a good time because Black-owned businesses along Eglinton Avenue West, mostly located between Marlee Avenue and Oakwood Avenue, have been struggling since 2011 to stay open.

Historic community needs higher profile in Toronto, business owners say

First, businesses in the area had to contend with Eglinton Crosstown construction. More recently, they had to deal with COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. More than 50 Black-owned businesses in Little Jamaica have closed their doors in the past five years.

“It was a challenge, but I endured. I held on,” said Sheryl Bryan Phillips, owner of Judy’s Island Grill, a small restaurant that serves authentic Caribbean cuisine at 1720 Eglinton Ave. W.

“2018, I think, was our best year. After that, the pandemic hit. Oh, I’m telling you, it was going down. Things have gotten better since we reopened.”

The restaurant, in operation for nearly seven years, bills itself as “Bringing the Taste of the Island to you.” On its walls, there are photos of Bob Marley, the Jamaican reggae singer, songwriter and musician who died in 1981, and retired Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt.

Bryan Phillips said she is starting to see familiar faces again, along with more foot traffic, but what the community needs is customers from outside the area.

“One time my sister, who helped me to get this business, said: ‘Why don’t you file for bankruptcy? I don’t know why you are still going.’ But something within me was pushing me to continue. This is what I’m destined for. This is my passion,” Bryan Phillips said.

Grant will fund programs 

The grant, from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, has enabled the opening of a satellite office of the Black Business and Professional Association (BBPA), a non-profit charitable organization formed in 1983 that serves to address equity and opportunity for the Black community in business, employment, education and economic development.

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