(Famoso Pizzeria’s chalkboard sign/photo: Deanna Grant)
Fourth-year University of Toronto student Karl Valdez is living in Keswick with his family but not because he loves the commute.
“The cost of rent is the only downside of the Annex,” says Valdez who shared a two bedroom apartment on Spadina Ave. with three friends up until last September.
Valdez traded in his rent money for a used Honda Civic and a 75 kilometer drive to and from school.
The drive can be taxing, especially for 8 a.m. classes says Valdez, but for him, living at home is worth it. “For me, it means a fridge full of food.”
Valdez spent more than 15 hours a week working a minimum-wage job to pay for groceries and rent. He says the freedom from work means he can study more.
Though if Valdez considers his commute as a form of work, then he still works at least ten hours a week if he doesn`t skip any classes. The difference between his part-time job and commitment to commuting is only five hours of time.
Valdez says he would love to live alone by U of T, “but living alone is hard, you need quite a bit of money.”
Fourth-year U of T student Matthew de Vries says living in the Annex is not affordable.
“I know a lot of people who live in residence or around campus. They make it work by budgeting and working a lot,” but de Vries says he will continue to commute from home for now.
De Vries lives in the junction with his family. His commute to school is 45 minutes by TTC.
“I know that finding $300-400 monthly rent is unrealistic, but it’s all that I can afford,” says de Vries, “if it was more affordable I would totally do it. It would be nice to have more time.”
Working about 15 hours a week and attending school full time, de Vries spends a lot of his free time in the the Annex with friends.
“I spent most of my life at Green Room last year,” says de Vries.
The entrance to the dive bar is through a back alley off of Bloor St. W. The only way to find out about it is by word of mouth.
“It’s cheap. The food is decent,” says de Vries of the bar with the green door.
Choosing hangout locations by beer and food prices, de Vries says, “it’s cheap. The food is decent, making it a really great gathering place for friends.”
Outfitted with mismatched chairs and tables, strings of white Christmas lights, and oddly placed wall art, the Green Room isn’t setting out to serve the suits of Bay Street.
The décor seems to decide its guests, says Dean Labreche, a restaurant owner in the neighbourhood.
“The streets don’t represent high end. The amount of people on bikes don’t represent high end,” says Labreche.
Labreche says he had students in mind when he chose the Annex for the location of Famoso Pizzeria.
“We reach out to students through different organizations whether it’s fraternities, sororities, or clubs. We build relationships with their leaders. We would definitely lose some business without students,” says Labreche.
Famoso Pizzeria is not the only restaurant to target students.
The sidewalks of Bloor St. West between Bathurst St. and Spadina Ave. are littered with chalkboard advertisements.
Walking and texting is a danger here. Signs are unpredictably placed on sidewalks and are frequently in the middle of the walkway.
If a restaurant has a chalkboard sign, it has a deal it wants students to know about.
Sushi comes as cheap as $7, burger and fries for $8, $10 large pizza, $2 bubble tea, $5 draft beer, and $5 martinis, $3 shots and $4 mixed drinks. The pricing is competitive.
Still, some restaurants like the new Greek fast food restaurant, It’s All GRK skip out on value pricing despite major competition in value, which “most students consider,” says de Vries.
Nathan Godin, co-owner of It’s All GRK says it is catering to students, but doesn’t offer any specials as of now. He says the prices are affordable with meal items from $6.
But even $6 can seem expensive when pit against El Furniture Warehouse, a chain resto-bar. The bar, nicknamed “The Furny” by its’ staff boasts $4.95 meals.
Before it was El Furniture Warehouse, it was the Pump, a local pub with a more expensive menu.
Open for six years before closing this summer, the Pump also had daily food specials, but didn’t cater to a young crowd. Former bartender, Stuart Hill says the bar wasn’t looking to serve students, “because you don’t make money off of them.”
The average beer at the Pump cost $8 and drinks were never on special. Hill says that the Pump was doing okay, but when the owner received an offer to purchase the bar, which wasn’t looking to be bought, he couldn’t say no.
“There’s many nights where it’s 1 a.m. and I’m there almost all alone, because no one is coming in,” says Hill.
Labreche says the Pump’s higher end prices did not suit the neighbourhood.
“I would be nervous to open a high end restaurant in a neighbourhood with chalk board deals. Although this area is very affluent, there’s still a lot of rentals,” says Labreche.
According to the Toronto Real Estate Board, in 2012 average home prices in the Annex were nearly $1 million. Condos start at about $300 thousand to almost $2 million according to condo finding website, Redpoint.com. Rental companies like Briarlane and Hollyburn who have multiple properties in the Annex list their rentals at $1000 to $1300 for a bachelor, $1400-1600 for one bedrooms, and two bedrooms from $1600-2000.