The Pinball Cafe opened its doors in February, on the strip of Queen West between Roncesvalles Ave. and Dufferin St. It was a family place where one could buy ice cream, eat a sandwich and play a few rounds of an old arcade favourite.
When it closed on Monday, after eight months of operating illegally without a licence, the owners posted the following to their website and Facebook page: “The Pinball Cafe is CLOSED by order of The City of Toronto based on 1) Zoning By-law No. 438-86 and 2) Interim control By-law #2012.”
The first zoning bylaw referenced states that only two pinball machines or other electronic games are permitted in a restaurant or amusement establishment — a limit that Jason Hazzard describes as “outdated.”
The second reference, the interim control bylaw, was introduced to council on Oct. 31. It states that no restaurants can be opened on the strip of Queen West between Roncesvalles Ave. and Dufferin St. for one year.
“We put a lot of time and money into this little business and we’re sad to see it go,” said Mr. Hazzard, 39, who opened The Pinball Cafe with his wife, Rachel.
Local councillor Gord Perks did not take kindly to that version of events.
“It attempts to lay blame on the city,” he said. “They’re trying to blame someone else for their mistakes.”
The Hazzards met with Mr. Perks in February, when they were seeking a business licence. They were having trouble obtaining one because of their excess of pinball machines. The councillor said he gave the business owners three options: reduce the number of machines to operate within the limit of two; go to the committee of adjustments for a variance on the zoning rules; or ask the city to change the zoning of the property.
Mr. Perks didn’t hear from the business owners again until the summer, when they were having trouble obtaining a liquor licence.
“If you want to get a liquor licence, then you have to get a business licence. And if you want a business licence, you have to get your zoning stuff figured out,” Mr. Perks said.
But the Hazzards didn’t act quickly enough. By the time they decided to reduce the number of pinball machines to obtain a licence, they were turned down because of the interim control bylaw.
Mr. Perks defends the bylaw, saying it addresses a zoning imbalance in the neighbourhood.
“All of the sudden, what was supposed to be a neighbourhood shopping area has turned into an entertainment area,” he said. “The streets are packed all night and empty all day.”
Frank Horgan, who has worked at Amico’s Pizza Restaurant on Queen West for eight years, has noticed the change.
“The area is getting saturated,” he said, noting that there used to be a few restaurants on the street. “And now you need both hands to count them.”
Although the interim bylaw took blame on the website post, Mr. Perks says it has nothing to do with the closure. If the necessary routes to obtain a business licence had been taken last February, they wouldn’t have had to close.
“They never opened legally, and they decided to close themselves,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking to lose a business, but it’s not right to blame the city.”
“We didn’t do our due diligence,” Mr. Hazzard admits.
“We wanted to do something that was fun and interesting and different. There wasn’t anything like it in Toronto.…
“It was a lot of fun. And unfortunately, it was illegal.”
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