East York Memorial Arena patrons recently avoided a messy food fight by saving their local snack bar from being eaten up by a private company.
Without community members’ knowledge, the arena’s snack bar — along with 22 other food and beverage concessions in Toronto’s parks, Forestry, and Recreation locations — was recommended to be leased out to private operators.
“Everyone from people in hockey to those in figure skating were completely upset and freaking out,” said East York Figure Skating Club volunteer Michelle Belaire, who’s in charge of operating the snack bar.
Beaches-East York councillor Janet Davis said she was equally surprised when she found the concession stand included in the proposal.
“I was not pleased, I knew it has been run by volunteers for many years going back to 1980,” she said. “It wasn’t simply a snack bar but an important community service.”
With strong community support and over a thousand residents rallying behind the skating club’s petition, the arena was exempted from the decision in late April.
“We were all ecstatic when we heard the news,” Belaire said. “I personally didn’t want it to go to an outside company because I’ve been coming here ever since I was a kid and I wanted to make sure the community receives the same service I’ve had since I was young.”
If a private company took over the snack bar, most residents wouldn’t have supported it, according to Belaire.
“Some people already planned to boycott it and have started advertising it throughout the arena,” Belaire said.
Marguerite Sam-Foh, whose daughter takes figure skating classes, was glad the concession stand remained in the hands of residents.
“The prices here are definitely lower compared to what you’d buy outside from convenience stores,” Sam-Foh said. “The snack bar gives us parents a great opportunity to save.”
Even though the snack bar isn’t a big moneymaker, Davis said it helps fund the arena’s annual ice show and equipment purchases.
With their snack bar saved, Davis and Belaire are looking forward to helping others do the same by developing a strategy supporting community-based non-profit groups to operate food concessions in city facilities.
“It’s great that we didn’t lose our snack bar, but I think what’s even better is that we’re potentially helping other communities in the process,” Belaire said.
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