Toronto production companies work together to help GreekTown

Even before the crippling COVID shutdown, Toronto’s GreekTown neighbourhood was struggling to protect its distinct culture from the gentrification that is transforming neighbourhoods across the city.

Those effects are particularly pronounced in GreekTown, where between 65-70% of the neighbourhood’s approximately 400 businesses are family owned, says Mary Fragedakis, executive director of the GreekTown BIA.

With the city beginning to open up after five months of lockdown, the GreekTown BIA is trying to entice Torontonians back to the neighbourhood with its new “Welcome Back” video, produced by Impossible Studios as part of the #CreativityForGood initiative.

GreekTown has one of the city’s highest concentrations of restaurants and bars, businesses that have been hard-hit during the crisis. “We’re in the business of selling ambiance and atmosphere,” says Fragedakis. “While many of our businesses have pivoted to a takeout and delivery model… you don’t really sell ambiance and atmosphere in styrofoam containers.”

It’s still too early to assess the full economic impact of the crisis, but several local businesses have closed their doors over the past year, says Fragedakis. “It’s been devastating,” she says. “Any loss of any of our members is like a death in the family.”

With closing local businesses being replaced in most cases by chain restaurants or national retailers, it continues to strip away the character of one of Toronto’s most distinct neighbourhoods.

“GreekTown is one of the last few cultural hubs still standing, alongside Little India and Chinatown,” says Marco D’Angelo, executive producer with Impossible Studios. “[L]ocals and business owners fear that their grasp on the area is loosening and it will soon become an area lined with big box stores.”

The one thing GreekTown’s businesses could count on to sustain them was the annual Taste of the Danforth, the granddaddy of Toronto’s many street festivals. The 26-year-old event draws an estimated 1.6 million people and pumps more than $100 million into the economy. The cancellation of this year’s event because of the pandemic is creating additional hardship for businesses already struggling to survive.

Launched by Impossible Studios, its sister company Blackjet and digital/PR firm Faulhaber Communications, #CreativityForGood is providing pro bono marketing assistance to brands and organizations that have been negatively impacted by COVID. More than 10 projects have been completed to date, for brands including HotBlackCoffee, Habitat for Humanity and Ontario Equestrian.

“We knew we had to do something to help mend the community, and with the help of our incredible partners and local business owners, we created this short film to showcase the vibrancy of this beautiful neighbourhood and remind Toronto that GreekTown is open for business,” says D’Angelo, a former director/producer with Rogers Media, where he produced multi-platform content for brands including the NHL, Unilever and Walmart Canada.

The companies enlisted several other Toronto companies including Married to Giants, Studio Feather, APM Music, Grande Camera, The Neighbourhood Studios and the neighbourgood to create the video.

The producers interviewed more than one dozen Greektown business owners and found they all shared one overriding fear: That they might not survive the summer if the situation didn’t change.

The video was created without a script, with narration by local business owners talking about what the neighbourhood means to them.

“When I saw the video I felt like I was getting ready to go on a holiday,” says Fragedakis. “I hope that when people see it, they feel like they want to come and spend their holiday on The Danforth.”

The GreekTown BIA is pushing the video out through its social channels, and supporting it with a paid ad campaign including Facebook, Instagram and local Greek media outlets arranged by its agency partner Foxx Advertising & Design.

Chris Powell