SETTLING IN THE WEST

In Arts & Life /

By Nasreen Gulamhusein

If you are an indecisive Libra like me, then Little Portugal on Dundas Street West might just be the perfect neighbourhood for you.

The choice between one relatively trendy restaurant and two bars for Friday night entertainment keeps the decision-making process simple. The local hot spots are packed to the hilt every weekend but for good reason:

There is just nowhere else to go. Initially, my main attractions to Little Portugal were the affordable rent and cozy urban atmosphere. But now, after two months, all I notice are old billiard halls and family businesses, leaving little room for colour and excitement. Odd variety shops provide me with basic necessities but “the basics” don’t cut it when I need a break from the pressures of school life.

What I need is easy access to a lively nightlife, a comfortable cafe to share coffee and dessert with friends, or a funky clothing shop with affordable price tags. In fact, they have become vital to my personal sanity and survival.

Now I understand why the rent is so affordable-it’s the only thing that keeps me from breaking my lease and moving to a more vibrant part of Toronto. Queen Street West and Little Italy are mere blocks away, with trendy shops and excellent varieties of casual and fine dining. Yet, with the winter chill fast approaching, I know I will reach for a take-out menu rather than my mitts and a scarf.

Niice Discount Clothing is like a little ray of daytime shopping-sunshine in an otherwise blah neighbourhood. Owned and run by 35-year-old Maria Teixeira, it’s the latest addition to the slowly-growing Dundas West area.

Teixeira previously owned a catering company that was closed down by the onslaught of SARS. She quickly came up with the idea for her discount clothing store and, lucky for shoppers like me, decided to open up in Little Portugal.

“Dundas is a third of the price compared to Queen,” Teixeira says. “It’s a great spot for new businesses to get started.” With a $30 price cap, the brand name items she carries, such as Mexx pants, are a steal.

“So far business has been doing very well. People have actually thanked me for opening,” she says. I thanked her myself when I left her store a few days ago with a small bag of clothing in hand. Then, a quick five-minute walk brought me back to my front door.

Now that’s more like it.

So far, growth in the area has been moving very slowly. “We need business people with fresh ideas but they are afraid to take risks,” she says. With fearless young entrepreneurs like Teixeira starting up, however, I hope others catch on soon and liven up the neighbourhood.

Little Portugal definitely has the potential to emerge as a competitive hot spot in Toronto but there is a lot of work to be done. Until then, you can find me among clothing racks at Niice Discount Clothing-the area’s only saving grace.

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