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Bowling Alley Startup? Toronto's East End Gets Creative

Bowling alleys are not just for bowlers anymore. They are for millennials looking for a cheap, cool, retro space for their latest tech startup. 

At least that’s the hope of Peter Knox, listing agent for the Shamrock Bowl at 280 Coxwell in Toronto’s East End.

The defunct Shamrock Bowl is being marketed as a possible rental space for tech companies.

“I’m amazed at the interest it has generated so far,” said Knox, who is a senior sales representative at Colliers. “The original idea was to tear it all out and use the space. But I thought there’s an opportunity here. If we can find a tech company who doesn’t want to pay much (rent is listed as $24/SF), they might find this very interesting.”

Closed in 2011, Shamrock Bowl is Toronto’s oldest bowling alley and its age is apparent. Though renovated as recently as a decade ago, the 1950s-era space is wall-to-wall wood with 12 five-pin bowling lanes, and a new kitchen, bar area and washrooms.

Somewhat out-of-sight above a GoodLife Fitness Centre, the property fits neatly into that so-called millennial love for character workspaces. It is a fact not lost on the property listing, which describes the Shamrock’s “open concept work environment” as perfect for “a creative group with vision”.

“That was the concept — to find creative-type people who might want to leave a few lanes in,” Knox said. “People have ping pong tables in the office, why not a bowling alley?”

The former Shamrock Bowl comes with a renovated bar, kitchen and washrooms.

If a tech company does not come along, there is no reason the bowling alley cannot remain just a bowling alley.

“There’s been some bowling interest as well,” Knox said. “There’s no sign out front, so I’m amazed at how many people seem to know it’s there. I think people in the neighbourhood have been quietly waiting for it to come back.”

Of course, a relaxing lunch hour bowl is not the only reason for considering moving to the area. Toronto’s east end has long been tagged with the title of “next big thing”. And it finally may be true. 

“Join the movement to the revitalized east end of Toronto”, trumpets the Shamrock listing. “Join the brew-pubs and boutique retail and gain value in the hottest up and coming area of Toronto.”

The revitalized Broadview Hotel

Several developments have sprung up along Coxwell and the surrounding area that, like the Shamrock, incorporate existing buildings in new concepts. Just down the road, the Godspeed Brewery has sprung up out of a former dollar store.

The new Broadview Hotel on Queen East was built on — and has an addition on top of — the former strip club Jilly’s. Included in its new features is an outdoor lounge on the seventh floor.

“[The east end] is still a little cheaper,” Harhay Construction Management Ltd. Director of Development Tyler Lalonde said. “And for young condo owners who perhaps have families now, who want to change their environment by getting away from downtown, it’s a perfect choice.”

A rendering of 875 Queen, complete with the facade of the original Woodgreen Discount Drug Mart in the near corner

Harhay is probably best known in the neighbourhood for the adaptive 90 Broadview, a 220-plus condo unit project built on top of an office building that once served as a Coca-Cola bottling plant. 

“The place was like a fortress,” Lalonde said. “We managed to keep the offices intact along with the condo units.”

The company's latest project is a complete teardown while keeping elements of the community. The new, mid-rise, 122-unit condo complex at 875 Queen East is being built on the former site of the WoodGreen United Church, the Red Door Family Shelter and the Woodgreen Discount Drug Mart building, constructed in 1888.

Lalonde said the mixed-use project was a lengthy collaboration between a motivated community, the city and his company.

“It took some time,” he said. “The community wanted to keep the shelter. So we worked very closely with the city and Red Door. It was an interesting and fruitful process.”

When 875 Queen is finished, the seven-storey building will include a new shelter with a separate entrance. The Victorian facade of the demolished pharmacy building will be returned to its original site.

“We met with heritage architects before tearing it down. We logged all the original bricks we could save, and dissembled it. Eventually, we’re going to rebuild it as close as possible to before,” Lalonde said.

Related Topics: Broadview Hotel, Coxwell