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Toronto hardware store open for nearly a century to close amid safety concerns

A nearly century-old hardware store in the heart of Toronto’s LGBTQ2S+ village is looking at closing its doors if the safety situation in the neighbourhood doesn’t improve.

Dudley’s Hardware Paint & Decor has been on Church Street in the Church-Wellesley Village since 1934. It’s right next to Barbara Hall Park and The 519, a non-profit helping vulnerable people and families in the area.

After working at the store for more than two decades, owner Steve Dawson is looking at closing-up shop.

“I cannot afford to this anymore,” Dawson told CTV News Toronto Wednesday.

Dawson said Sunday morning, for the fourth time so far this year, his window was smashed. On top of frequent thefts, he said staff have been spit on and physically assaulted, adding he has watched the Church-Wellesley neighbourhood steadily decline to beyond a crisis.

Broken window at Dudley’s Hardware Paint & Decor. (Steve Dawson)

“Every time there’s a ding dong, the hairs on the back of our heads stand up, every time we have to greet somebody,” he said.

“We’ve had people in the back of the store shooting up, injecting in the back of the store, blood splatting all over the place, and I’m lucky I can keep my staff because most would just say, ‘I’m done.’”

Phil Parsons is helping organize a protest Saturday at noon against the increasing violence, harassment and vandalism. He spent Wednesday handing out flyers.

“We’re protesting for security and safety in our village,” Parsons told CTV News Toronto. “We really need to bring attention to this area and (the) Village because there are days we feel like we are under siege.”

People are scheduled to meet at the intersection of Church and Wellesley, and have an “old fashioned sit-in,” Parsons said.

Some employees at Out On The Street, a clothing store bordering the north side of Barbara Hall Park, said they don’t feel safe eating lunch or visiting the AIDS memorial in the park.

AIDS Memorial at Barbara Hall Park in the Church-Wellesley Village. (CTV News Toronto)

Out On The Street store manager Derek Skrzynski bikes to work from Mimico, and he said he occasionally faces issues during his commute as he has been approached by people asking for or selling drugs, and has seen ambulances responding to overdoses in the area.

He said he wouldn’t recommend spending time in the park where garbage and needles can be seen.

“It’s not the safest place … I think we need more help from the city, more shelters,” Skrzynski said.

Employees speaking with CTV News Toronto want to see more services and support in the park, and outside The 519.

“I witnessed a fight or a brawl between four individuals, and there were security guards looking over but they weren’t engaging, they weren’t deescalating the situation,” area-resident and clothing store worker Sam Keller said.

William Ayers, owner of the pet store Zendog, said he wants the city and The 519 to take more responsibility.

“It’s no different than if I’m a restaurant owner and I have a patio outside I give them alcohol and they become drunk and belligerent, it’s my responsibility to maintain that safe area and the same goes for them, it doesn’t end with them just giving free meals,” Ayers said.

The 519 told CTV News Toronto there are long-standing safety concerns in the Church-Wellesley Village and downtown east, adding the solution involves working with all levels of government.

“I think it’s everyone’s responsibility to make sure we have a community that’s safe, we’re working really closely neighbourhood residents, community safety tables, the city, at the end of the day we can only do so much,” The 519 said.

The 519 has some security on site, but the number of staff can vary from day to day and season to season.

Dawson said his store supports the livelihoods of six families and closing is not an easy decision.

Dudley’s Hardware store owner Steve Dawson. (CTV News Toronto)

“The community needs us and we want to be here, but if things don’t change, it’s not sustainable,” he said.

Dawson said the issue is not about unhoused people nearby, but ongoing violence, harassment and vandalism.

In a statement, the City of Toronto said it’s been working with community organizations to support Barbara Hall Park for all park users, and ran a community safety ambassador’s pilot project this spring to enhance safety.

Among several ongoing initiatives, there is support for needle pick up and Streets to Homes outreach workers visiting at least once in a 24-hour period.

“Dudley’s Hardware has been a staple in this area for almost a century. It is an example of how important small businesses are to our community,” a statement from the Church-Wellesley Village BIA reads. “If Dudley’s were to close, the loss would be felt deeply.”

The BIA said it also recognizes safety looks different for each everyone in LGBTQ2S+ community, and over the years, has engaged in actions such as events at the park, information sharing, working with local government and police, de-escalation teams and sitting on various safety committees.

A meeting to address safety concerns in the area is set to take place Friday, where Toronto police, The 519 and Dudley’s Hardware are attending.

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