Toronto corner store at risk of closing over zoning technicality

Corner shop controversy over a cup of joe. Afua Baah has the details on residents rallying behind a local shop that could shut down over a licensing dispute with the city.

By Afua Baah

Tensions are brewing between a local corner store and the city. The reason: a cup of coffee.

Yana Miriev has owned Finch store on Dewson Street near Ossington Avenue since 2022. The store initially sold only groceries, but she quickly realized her sales wouldn’t be sustainable long-term.

“According to our license we are allowed to serve refreshments and this is what we did,” said Miriev. “We’re serving coffee for to go and baked goods.”

In May 2023, Miriev reached out to the licensing division, asking if she could install a coffee machine with a ‘to-go’ only service. The following month, she received a reply, saying that adding any services to the active license is permitted. Weeks later though, she had a visit from a zoning by-law officer saying they’d received an anonymous complaint.

“They said the complaint was backed by multiple drawings, supporting the idea that we are not following the zoning by-law,” said Miriev. “I was extremely surprised to hear that because we have an active license, we followed the law and acted according to our permits, our existing permits.”

To-go coffees being brewed at Finch Store. Tony Fera/CityNews

Photographer and documentarian Dan Seljak was walking in the neighbourhood, noticed a petition sign in the store’s window, and decided to take action.

“I spoke to the folks inside and they didn’t really have an online presence for it, and it’s a topic that’s top of mind for a lot of people,” said Seljak. “ So I thought, I got some experience with the internet and why not help them out a little bit.”

The online petition at has over 1,500 signatures so far.

“This neighbourhood, actually the ward saw a decrease from 2016 to 2021, and then of course there is online retail, so if these stores need to adapt and serve some coffee in order to survive, why not?” said Seljak.

CityNews reached out to the City of Toronto for a response. They said “the building at 42 Dewson St. is in a Residential Zone, and a non-residential/commercial use is not permitted. Any change of use from a Retail Grocery/Variety Store is not permitted; and that includes store staff preparing food or drinks (or coffees) for sale to patrons. A change of use, requires zoning relief from the Committee of Adjustment.”

Miriev said she believes this is a problem of communication between two departments and that the rules weren’t likely checked by the departments at the time the license was issued.

Tony Fera/CityNews

Miriev also refused to voluntarily downgrade and said she still doesn’t have written confirmation on what exactly she violated. “For the business, it’s a death sentence.”

She received a notice of a tribunal in February, but can continue to run her business as-is until that happens. The city is proposing changes to these by-laws, with a final report for consideration expected later this year after public consultations.

“The problem is the timing. I don’t know how long this is going to take for the city to change their laws.”

Consultations looking into allowing small-scale retail in neighbourhoods are happening throughout the month of June. As for the owner, Miriev is waiting to hear back from the Municipal Licensing and Standards division for a date on the hearing.

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