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Loss of Fetish Fair reflects a changing neighbourhood

Loss of Fetish Fair reflects a changing neighbourhood

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'The more the neighbourhood is homogenized, the more bland it becomes'
The co-chair of the Church and Wellesley Village Business Improvement Area (BIA) says local merchants are adapting to a changing neighbourhood. Just don't call it "family-friendly."

BIA manager David Wootton, who did not return Xtra's calls, recently wrote an email to Xtra to express disappointment that the words "family-friendly" were used to describe the BIA's decision to cancel its annual Fetish Fair and replace it with “inclusive events,” such as a sidewalk sale. "Fetish Fair as we know it ended last year," Wootton said in March.

Liz Devine, the BIA co-chair and the president of Rainbow High Vacations on Church St, says merchants have been making an effort to appeal to families, among other people, in recent years.

"We would rather call it neighbourhood-friendly, community-inclusive, " Devine says.


Those aren’t the words George Giaouris, owner of Northbound Leather on Yonge St, uses. “Let’s call this what it is,” he says. “Trying to soften the Fetish Fair and put in bouncy castles, like they did last year, it killed it. When you're thinking fetish, you don't want little kids running around. So I think the BIA made a bad move. Put the family event on another weekend.”

The cancellation of Fetish Fair is a major blow, he says, and signals the "desexifying" of the Village. “This is yet another unique experience that has been removed from the list of reasons to go to the Village,” he says. “The more the neighbourhood is homogenized, the more bland it becomes, and the less interesting.”

Giaouris, who “lives Fetish Fair 365 days a year,” says the event has always been very well attended, profitable, unique -- and it attracted people to the Village.

That’s not actually the case, Devine says. “Most businesses were either closed or reported decreased business on Fetish Fair day. Very few BIA businesses participated as vendors in the Fetish Fair.” However, she could not provide a number to indicate how many vendors are members of the BIA.

Other Church St businesses have mixed feelings. Terry Barlows, a bartender at O'Grady's, says business, especially on the patio, is steady during Fetish Fair. "It's busy out there because we're right next to the staging area . . . Fetish Fair is an event that brings in tourism. I talk with people at the bar. Lots of people say they're from the States."

Across the street, at the Churchmouse and Firkin pub, assistant manager David Pistilli says he's not the least bit surprised the BIA chose to cancel Fetish Fair. "The money just wasn't there. People weren't spending."


Pistilli, who counts himself a proud member of the leather community and is a former employee of Northbound Leather, says he's saddened the Fetish Fair wasn't more profitable for area businesses. "Overall, I think the leather business has declined everywhere. Maybe fetish people are staying home, having private parties or turning to the internet."

Steamworks general manager John Broadhagen, a long-time sponsor of Fetish Fair who sits on the BIA board, says Fetish Fair wasn't very popular with some merchants. "Many of the business owners on Church St are straight. And they don't get the whole fetish thing."

The BIA plans to replace the fair with new events it says will be more welcoming to those outside the gay community, Devine says, such as families living in the new condo towers. The weekend events throughout August, which may or may not include a sidewalk sale, will not have anything to do with fetish or kink.

“Our neighbourhood is changing pretty dramatically and the BIA is quite aware of that,” Devine says. “The eight-block radius surrounding the Village is changing with all of the new condominium construction.”

Since Loblaws has moved into the neighbourhood, small Church St businesses have been struggling. “You’re seeing the gentrification of the whole downtown district. On Church St, small independent stores are moving out. Xtra moved off Church St and is being replaced by a medical centre. That reflects the changing demographic,” she says. 


However, the BIA set aside $87,500 in its 2012 budget for two new 22-foot rainbow-swirl signpost markers to welcome visitors to the Village. For Broadhagen, the posts represent the BIA investing a lot of money to maintain the image of the Village as a queer area, but he says the unspoken truth is that it's quickly changing. "We have to protect our history and culture here. We are supposed to be the gay neighbourhood. We should be doing gay-related events, things that appeal to the queer community."

While he didn't have an exact date, Broadhagen says the rainbow markers will be installed at either end of Church St soon. "I think [the markers] are a lot of money for what we're getting. The cost of Fetish Fair is a drop in the bucket really. But with so many people opposed to it, it's tough to keep it going."

The BIA is trying to reshape the community, Broadhagen says. "Are we really a family community? Sure, there's gay families, gay marriage and gay adoption, but, come on, there are not a lot of kids here. So is [the BIA] making the best move? I don't think so, but that's just my personal opinion. I was disappointed. Steamworks was a big supporter of Fetish Fair . . . To lose that event for this community is a shame."

Ward 27 Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam says there’s no shame in the BIA’s decision to let go of Fetish Fair. “That had a lot to do with economics and volunteer energy . . . Perhaps they just need to scale it down. It was very ambitious. That might have been an option rather than cancelling it altogether.”

There is a long history of mixed messages and attitudes about the Fetish Fair. 

Last year the festival got a makeover. The Church St Fetish Fair was rebranded as the Church St Village Fair. At the time co-chair Avery Pitcher told Xtra the BIA wanted the event to be more “inclusive and geared to all ages.”


But not everyone wanted to see the event rebranded. To protest the change, a large group of leather and kinky folk marched through the fair, chanting, “This is what Leather Pride looks like!” Giaouris says the leather community spoke loud and clear.

"That was a slap to the BIA," Broadhagen says, adding, "I have a strong leather background . . . I didn't like that [the leather and fetish folks] were segregated last year. I spoke out against it. I know the BIA sees me as the bad boy on the board. It's a board of middle-aged, mostly straight business owners in the community." 

Devine says the change was necessary because businesses along Church St were not reporting much profit. She says a BIA exists to serve its members, who are the local businesses that provide the association with annual funding, not the community at large.

“The purpose of the BIA is to promote a healthy and sustainable business district,” she says. “[Preserving the sex-positive image of the Village] isn’t the responsibility of the BIA. It’s a broader responsibility of the community.”

Throughout its seven-year history, the Fetish Fair has faced several threats, yet Wootton had always insisted the BIA supported the festival.

In 2010 he told Xtra that Fetish Fair is an integral part of the Village. He said, “The fair has a political agenda. It does brand this neighbourhood — it keeps the sex in the Village. We need to keep a certain amount of that so that members of the global community know we still identify with sexual freedom and sexual practice.”


However, that same year, Wootton also admitted that some area businesses do not want to be associated with fetish or sex. 

In 2009, the Fetish Fair was in danger of a funding cut, so the event's former executive director, Cam Lewis, and other organizers lobbied the board and area merchants.

"Fully funding the Fetish Fair was a no-brainer," Lewis, who declined to comment, told Xtra at the time. "After all, the Fetish Fair brings people to the Village, elevates the gayness of the Village; it drives business to [BIA] members, it showcases local talent, and it is the second largest outdoor fair in the Village. Only Pride is bigger."

Devine disagrees, however, noting the BIA has tried several times to tap into corporate sponsorship for the Fetish Fair but has been unsuccessful. “It’s a difficult event to sell.”

According to its budget summary, $40,000 was allocated to the fair in 2011. But Devine says it actually cost between $60,000 and $70,000. “As a result of that, the BIA has no funds, like zero, to do any neighbourhood marketing initiatives.”

The total BIA levy for 2012 is $233,730, up from $231,933 in 2011.

Wong-Tam says the BIA should be working on getting the neighbourhood prepared for the international spotlight of WorldPride in 2014. “Wisely, the BIA wants to focus on streetscaping and beautifying the area to get it ready for WorldPride. That is a strategic direction. We have a world signature event coming to Church St in just two years.”
 
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Comments

fetish meet up?
Where does a straight man find a cool fetish place to hang out near guelph or GTA? I don't think having a fetish makes you gay. ..... it sucks this event didn't make money and was shut down.
Ed's note
The argument that the CSFF was a money loser doesn't carry much weight with me. I sat on the CWVBIA board for a few years. Though CSFF brought thousands of people and wallets into the nieghbourhood, the executive didn't really seize the cost-recovery or marketing opportunities it presented. That ennui was at least partly induced by third-party CSFF organizers who sometimes treated the BIA members comtemptibly. The CSFF helped to set the tone and personality of the village as a place where differences, including sexual ones, were celebrated. But the impulse to be all things to all people, that the CWVBIA seems to be following now, seems more likely a recipe for a neighbourhood that is unremarkable to everyone. It's a shame.
Great article in the Star about The Village +BIA
Great article in the Star about The Village and the BIA. (copy/paste) http://www.thestar.com/news/article/1165265--will-the-gay-village-be-a-victim-of-its-own-success
Get the F*%# Out You Faggots!
As Devine, says in the Toronto Star, 4/22/12. "The Village is no longer the centre of gay life in Toronto the way it once was." This is the "MESSEGING" repeat over and over and over, doesn't matter if it's true or not, using the Nazi rule book simply repeat over and over, lies become truth..."The Village is no longer the centre of gay life in Toronto the way it once was." Of course what I hear is GET THE FUCK OUT FAGGOTS! What I see the BIA doing is saying GET THE FUCK OUT FAGGOTS!
Queers Against Islamic Atrocities (QuAIA)
@Lizzie Indeed there is an influential Muslim Student Association at Jarvis Collegiate. As well as a fast growing Muslim community on Parliament St. There is a Halal Burger place on Church St. Where Zeldas was. And there are Muslim women in Niqabs with their faces fully covered, going to the Church St. School at Alexander. They are slowly spreading their territory into the LGBT Village. How will this new demographic affect The Village? Will the BIA be catering to Islamist Muslims and muzzling LGBT people in the process? We need to have a new protest group in the Pride Parade: Queers Against Islamic Atrocities. We need to send a message that slashing animal's throats is cruel and the treatment of Gays in Islamic countries is deplorable. Let all Muslims know that when they come to The LGBT Village that it will be under our rules. Queers Against Islamic Atrocities (QuAIA) needs to march at Pride and maintain a presence in our LGBT Village. And LGBT folks need to dance and sing and scream wildly in the streets, hold hand and kiss and have as much fun as possible on Church St. to re-mark our territory.
Thanks Liz Devine you've um...
made yourself as clear as a pike of doggy doo doo. So if you please, tell us more about the community stakeholders you refer to? Does it include Jarvis Collegiate folks and the Muslim Student Association reps? Exactly what community stakeholders do you mean? It's unclear. Do you mean the Gay Men Against Homophobic Homo's and Allies Alliance? Could you be a little more clear? Thanks so much.
To clarify - AGAIN
I did not say, as inferred in a comment above: "The BIA plans to replace the fair with new events it says will be more welcoming to those outside the gay community, Devine says, such as families living in the new condo towers." It was the reporter who continued to insist that we talk about families in the context of the evolving activities of the BIA. Nor, as the article implies, is $87,500 of new money funding the Gateway Project, that has been in development and accumulating funding over the past 5 years.

It is not the purpose of the BIA, as another commentor noted, to run the Fetish Fair. For 3 years the BIA has been trying to find funding and event partners to take the lead in producing this event and reduce the financial and operating burden on BIA members and volunteers. This included changes in budget and programming, hiring a fundraising consultant and developing a sponsorship program, and creating partnership programs. In 2011 the Fair was again the BIA’s largest single financial and staffing expenditure that left it without resources to fund local marketing campaigns or long term beautification programs. Last fall, the BIA underwent a strategic planning process with members and community stakeholders to determine its future development and programming priorities. As a result the BIA is prioritizing its investment in long term growth opportunities: partnership programming, beautification, loyalty campaigns. This includes support for street events and community programming with the BIA in a strategic SUPPORTING role, more beautification improvements to neighbourhood gathering areas, new shop local programs, and targeted funding support for projects that bring new life and visibility to the village. The BIA looks forward to working together with community partners and stakeholders to create these visions, work together, and help our Village grow.
Post-script
@ Joe ("...an animal is at its best when hunted") - Your post is one of the most salient contributions I've ever read on this site. Well said.

And to all of my fellow queer leatherfolk (and non-leatherfolk alike): it's time to re-stamp Church Street from the baby stroller-pushing animatrons. Let it all hang out, Sweethearts - morning, noon and night - Mondays thru Sundays!
Only In Tight-Ass Toronto
So... let me try to understand this... World Pride 2014 is coming to Toronto (probably due in large part to Toronto's rep for throwing a huge Pride celebration every summer - most of it located at Church/Wellesley)... and the CWBIA is de-gayifying/de-sexualizing Church/Wellesley BEFORE the hoards of queer tourists arrive? Is it just me, or does anybody else out there think this is a really f-ing stupid development?? Only in tight-ass Toronto.
“An animal is at it's best when hunted...”
“An animal is at it's best when hunted...” When LGBT were legally hunted, we devised all kinds of clever self defence and fighting back strategies for self preservation. Now that we have won equality under the law, we grow complacent and dull like domesticated sheltered neutered animals. While our brothers and sisters are beaten, jailed and murdered and living in fear in Russia, Middle East and Africa, western LGBT are getting fat watching TV shows which brainwash by proselytizing Heterosexuality with a smattering of Gay/Lesbian pets thrown in for comic relief. It could all change as it had done before. It is changing in our LGBT Village. Straight families are displacing LGBT folks and Halal meat and Pizza are pushing out LGBT businesses. How do you cook a frog without him knowing? Increase the heat in small increments and he won't notice that he is being boiled to death. Everyone LGBT person in Toronto should start preparing for World Pride on the streets of the LGBT Village by pretending that World Pride is happening right now, every day --it will be our saviour.

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