In the Wake of Fire at Topper Linen, Tim Topornicki Weighs on Challenges for Businesses in Toronto

Fire at Topper Linen in February 2016. Photo: info.51.ca

Yuri Bilinsky, New Pathway – Ukrainian News.

Topper Linen and Uniform Service is a classical medium-sized Canadian company, of the like that comprise the backbone of the country’s economy. Established in 1956 and located in Toronto’s Junction area, this second-generation commercial laundry firm personifies the past of this industrial zone in the city’s core. There are still many businesses and warehouses there but abandoned buildings and lots are now one of the features of this area. Incidentally, the topic of interview with the owner Tim Topornicki was the realities of business climate in Toronto and the province of Ontario as a whole.

This topic arose after the fire that decimated one of Topper Linen’s buildings on February 11, 2016. A 12,000 sq f building, built in the 1850s, was condemned the next day. But it took Topornicki six months to get a demolition permit and an environmental assessment from the City of Toronto. The building was finally demolished in the fall of 2017.
Having gone through this process, Topornicki now believes that “on the environmental side we’ve gone too far.” He had to bore 40 holes on the 3,000 sq f lot and was held responsible for the whole history of the property which had operated for 100 years before it was bought by Tim’s father, Edward Topornicki. The ground was also contaminated by other businesses in that industrial area and it was quite difficult and costly to remove that contamination. Topornicki said that if there is water in bore holes, the owners can not put it in the sewer and have to take it to the treatment facility.

Due to these kinds of reasons, there are many vacant properties in the Junction area that are growing weeds on them, said Topornicki. He provided an example of a nearby former paint factory – the property has been idle for 15 years. It has been sold twice and the owners have walked away from it every time. The only way to be able to afford to clean up the soil and all other costs for an acre of land in that area, noted Topornicki, is to build at least a 25-story condo on it.

Topornicki provided an example of other municipalities, such as Hamilton and Montreal, which are also stringent on the environment but invest in infrastructure and help the businesses with their infrastructural needs. He noted that the lack of infrastructure investment in Toronto is hurting the businesses: “Our streets are packed and full of potholes. We are now making fewer deliveries a day but our costs continue to go up due to the traffic conditions. Our sewers are overflowing to the point that the water is going to the Lake Ontario while the businesses are monitored very heavily in terms of their outgoing water. The criteria for outgoing water I believe is too stringent. A solution for me would be to move my business to Barrie or Newmarket as my U.S. competitors have, but the relocation would be too costly.”

Another challenge for businesses across all industries is labour shortages. Although Topper Linen is a unionized company and pays benefits, it’s often difficult to find right personnel to fill positions.

At the same time, he said, the minimum wage hike in Ontario from $11.60/hr to $14.00/hr should have been carried out gradually. Province-wide, the negative impact of minimum wage increase on employment may not have materialized as Ontario’s paid employment increased at a pace of 14K/month in the first half of this year, the fastest since 2010 (Labour Force Survey, National Bank of Canada). But many food and service establishments, which are Topper Linen’s primary customers, have closed because of the wage increase, noted Topornicki. “The economy is not yet in a recession but a lot of Canadian businesses are already having a very difficult time,” he said.

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