Restaurants utilize the sidewalk spaces with appealing outdoor patios, and quite often the shops do as well, providing tables filled with vibrant produce for sale. But just how safe are these abundant displays on the street? What are shop owners risking by putting so much of their stock within easy reach of the passing public?
Munir Ahadi is an employee at the Fresh Express Fine Foods store situated kitty-corner to Pape Subway Station. They sell a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, and, in addition to a well-stocked store, they have several tables outside offering produce. The store is open twenty-four hours a day, and Ahadi explains that in addition to cameras, there is a security guard that patrols the shop to keep an eye on things, but that mostly the food is just kept wrapped up under tarps at night.
According to statistics from the Toronto Police Service, there were seven instances of commercial break and enter or robbery in a one-month period from September 2010 to October 2010, within a one-kilometre radius of where the Fresh Express Fine Foods shop is located. As these are only the number of reported thefts in the area and it is rather hard to tell if a lime or two has gone missing, it’s no wonder that Ahadi and his employer hope for the best by wrapping up their outdoor produce.
The fruit isn’t their biggest target, however, and Ahadi laughs before explaining what their unlikely most stolen item is. “Cheese. We have a huge problem with people stealing cheese and taking it to the bar for when they have a beer.” The selections of cheese are in the middle of the store, surrounded by bright lights and a video camera. “Our boss chased a cheese thief down, once,” comments Fahir, a colleague of Ahadi. “Chased him all the way to the bar.”
The shopkeepers laugh over this, and it’s obvious that cheese theft is something they have faced quite a few times in their jobs. Ahadi is quick to point out that he would never personally chase a thief down, as it is too risky to go after someone without knowing how dangerous they can be. But are people in the Danforth neighbourhood particularly dangerous, or simply light-fingered?
Just to the west of Fresh Express Fine Foods is a used bookstore at Danforth and Carlaw called Re: Reading. Christopher Sheedy, the owner, describes how he learned the hard way what to put out on his sidewalk display, after he lost 15 DVDs to a thief. “I had them out in cases, and they actually went through the cases, stole the DVDs, and left the cases there. So now I put out anything that I’m ready to give away, so if it goes walking, I’m not out that much in profit.”
Sheedy’s bookstore is very popular with students from Centennial College, and though books are not a staple for living (according to most), even they have been the target of thieves. He, like Ahadi, is also very quick to assert that if faced with a thief, the only thing he’d do is report it. Sheedy is wary of the number of unpredictable criminals today, and has read plenty of accounts in the papers where a simple theft over a five-dollar item has escalated into a stabbing or worse.
His shop hasn’t attracted that type of violence, and he hopes things stay that way. “Let the police come for them. They’ve the training.”
Oddly, neither Sheedy nor Fahir and Ahadi note any particular time of year that is worse for thefts than another. Even with the outdoor displays and the influx of tourists to the area during the summer – most particularly to the Taste of the Danforth festival – business seems to be a steady stream of profitability with a few occurrences of theft.
Being closer to the less affluent east side of Pape, and being in the food merchant business, Fresh Express Fine Foods sees more instances of homeless individuals passing through their stores, which are a marked issue for them. Re: Reading doesn’t get as many, though both shopkeepers agree that they don’t have a typical shoplifter profile.
Regardless of the small thefts they face, both Re: Reading and Fresh Express Fine Foods continue to liven up the Danforth with their outdoor displays.