Signs and Streets of the Quarantine

April 24, 2020

As I write this post we are into our sixth week of the stay-at-home order in Ontario, Canada.

The April 1st, 2020 Toronto Star, with a poem by Toronto Poet Laureate Al Moritz on the cover.


My experience of this time has likely been similar to many others: it is hard. Hard to not go to one's favourite café, hard to miss exciting work assignments and associated earnings, hard to be at home - especially home with active kids (whom I love dearly!) - all day long.

Maintaining good health has never been more necessary, but also never more challenging.

One important part of my physical, emotional and mental health over the past several years has been running.

My view heading up the Verrazzano Bridge while running in the November 2019 New York City Marathon - the biggest highlight of my running journey so far.


Since the social distancing and stay-at-home messaging began, I have found solo running - done at a safe distance from others - an even more vital part of maintaining my overall health.

Shooting street photograpy weekly has been part of my artistic discipline - and has contributed to my emotional and mental health.

As I can no longer explore unique corners of Toronto with my larger digital and film cameras - I recently began capturing images with my phone while running.


What caught my eye early on was the many closed stores, and the signs posted in their windows.

While the signs on corporate stores, such as the one above from Tim Hortons, communicate necessary messages, it is the hand-written signs and the personalized notes in windows of small businesses that are especially touching.

They are heartfelt, moving and only serve to deepen my concern for the future of small businesses in Toronto.

Bell's Martial Arts at 2200 Danforth Avenue.


This blog post features images of stores in East Toronto, and their associated signs.

Wherever possible I have included links so that you can, if you wish, support these small businesses during this challenging time. (At the end of this post I suggest additional actions you can take to support local businesses.)

Images shown here were taken between March 17th to April 21st. Businesses may have updated policies about their services so check directly with them to get their latest news.

The Handwork Department, 1884 Danforth Avenue, one of my favourite stores along Danforth East.


Queenie's Cards at 1808 Danforth Avenue, another of my favourite Danforth East shops. (There are many!)

Click through and see all the unique stationary and gifts that they have!


Simon's Wok at 797 Gerrard Street East.


CH Hardware at 789 Gerrard Street East.


Mi Mi Restaurant at 688 Gerrard Street East.


Farside Toronto at 600 Gerrard Street East.


Easy Living Depot at 328 Broadview Avenue.

Love the name and love the look of this place. They seem to offer almost everything.


John's Hairstyling at 742 Broadview Avenue, just south of The Danforth.


Mike's Music at 105 Danforth Avenue, just east of Broadview.


La Di Da on The Danforth, at 128 Danforth Avenue (Currently offering free delivery on orders of $25 or more.)


Stunning Nails at 272 Danforth Avenue


La Diperie at 372 Danforth Avenue.


All About Eve Boutique, 602 Danforth Avenue.


Circus Books and Music, 866 Danforth Avenue.


Meating on Queen 1160 Queen Street East.


The Framemaker at 1171 Queen Street East.


Sweet Bliss at 1304 Queen Street East.


Ritz Restaurant, 310 Donlands Avenue.

Ritz was the last restaurant I ate in before the lockdown. It was my first time eating there and I loved it.

The staff and customers were very friendly and the food was delicious.

I look forward to eating there again after the stay home order ends.


Since I started documenting local stores, news of small businesses closing due to financial hardships has been on the rise. A recent survey by the Broadview Danforth BIA found that "61 per cent of Toronto small businesses will close within three months unless further rent relief programs are implemented."

Small businesses are truly what make our cities, and our neighbourhoods, unique and vibrant. It would be devastating to local culture to have so many close.

There are some things that we can do:

1) Sign this petition to support small businesses.

2) Shop at local stores, if it is safe for you to do so. Many have safe-distance shopping policies and/or offer take-out or contactless delivery.

3) Some businesses are offering gift cards which can be redeemed later. This allows them to survive now.

3) Share ways to support small businesses with your social media feed. (Your local BIA will normally list this information.)

If you know other ways to support small businesses let me know and I will update this list.

I will share more blog posts of images captured while out running, as time allows, in the coming weeks so please stay tuned.

May 14/20 Update: Click here to see Part Two of this post, with a wider range of signs and scenes of East Toronto.

Please stay home, stay well and take all necessary precautions for essential outings.


P.S. I don't have photos, but I want to offer a shout out to Legacy Indoor Cycling Studio (1506 Danforth Avenue). My wife and I have been members for several years and Andy, the owner, hosts a gallery of my work there, which I am very thankful for. Legacy has been hosting live workouts on their Instagram and Facebook feeds. Be sure to follow them and to join workouts - a great way to stay healthy during life under lockdown!

Culture Snap Photography features the work of Toronto-based photographer Henry VanderSpek. Henry specializes in documenting the work of local and international non-profit organizations, special events, live music, street and art photography. To hire Henry for an assignment, please click here to get in touch.
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