There's no doubt Mitch Korman's heart is in Riverside.

While he didn't actually live in the downtown east neighbourhood until recently, it's a place where he's spent his whole life.

"I'm 48 years old and I've been in the neighbourhood for 48 years," he said matter-of-factly during a recent interview.

Korman's father Jack, who died in April 2009, was one of the founding members of the local business improvement area (BIA), which was initially known as the Queen-Broadview Village BIA prior to being renamed the Riverside District BIA about 10 years ago.

Jack Korman owned and operated Corby's Custom Clothiers - one of several men's clothiers in the former working-class community - from 1953 until his retirement in 1998.

"My first experience in the neighbourhood was working in my dad's clothing store. I started there when I was 10 and every duty possible, I did it," smiled Korman.

"I remember late night meetings in my house discussing the BIA. Even after (my dad) retired, he continued with the BIA because he had so much passion for the neighbourhood."

Korman couldn't help but carry on that passion.

For the last five or so years, Korman has served as chair of the local BIA his father helped create.

About 12 years ago, the real estate lawyer moved his practice, Korman and Company, from Bay Street to the same storefront that once housed his father's clothing store at 721 Queen St. E., just east of Broadview Avenue.

With expensive rent to pay and virtually no parking in downtown Toronto, it only made sense to relocate there.

"My business has improved dramatically because of being here," said Korman, who in homage to his parents' lifelong commitment to the neighbourhood decided to retain the old Corby's sign on the building.

"For me it's great being in this neighbourhood because the people who have all been here for a long time have great stories about my dad. People still stop in here and ask if he's around."

In its early years, the Queen-Broadview Village BIA was active in improving the neighbourhood and today Korman and his board of directors, with the support of local merchants and restaurateurs, work to maintain and build upon their efforts.

"The Korman family has a stake in this community and its success," he said, remembering how in the 1960s, the neighbourhood had every type of retailer one would need from butchers to clothiers to grocery stores and even a few greasy spoon restaurants.

"You had all the stores that offered the necessities of life," he said, reminiscing about his childhood.

"Then the neighbourhood went downhill. The factories closed down. People moved out. The financial core centralized downtown."

With the good business owners getting old and vacancies on the rise, Riverside struggled for many years and was by no means a place people gravitated toward.

"It stayed that way until about 10 years ago," Korman said.

Little by little, businesses started to relocate to the area and the once-working class neighbourhood has now transformed into a place where people want to live, work and play.

"When the factories moved out of the area so did the banks. Now the banks are starting to move back. This area is now one of the best kept secrets in the city," he said.

"People who shop and dine here come here over and over again. Today people are leaving the core because they want to live here."

Aside from a Subway and a Toyota dealership, the retailers in Riverside are all independents.

"Every business you walk into here has an owner with a personality who is generally on-site," he said.

The potential for this charismatic downtown east neighbourhood is endless, he said.


This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.    Mar 11, 2011 - 2:52 PM

Click here for the original version and photos