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Oakville's lakeshore strip a model of the form

Fresh cuts at Just an Olde Fashion Butchery & Seafood.

Inside Just an Olde Fashion Butchery & Seafood.

Preparing fresh fish at Just an Olde Fashion Butchery & Seafood

The Just an Olde Fashion Butchery & Seafood

Soontorn Bahn Thai and The Green Bean.

Bulk coffee beans at The Green Bean.

Fresh, local pastries at The Green Bean.

As blasphemous as it might be for an Annex boy like myself to say, Oakville’s Lakeshore strip is one of the best in the GTA, a mixture of peaceful and bustling that would be difficult to reproduce in Toronto's urban core.
A strip, as I see it, should be everything to everyone who might wander onto it needing or wanting something. It’s one of the reasons Bloor-Yorkville, as lovely as it is in many ways, ultimately fails. It’s too homogenous. And it's why Forest Hill Village, with its low-end What a Bagel, for instance, has it beat.
Oakville's strip is a little like Forest Hill Village, but there's more of it, it's much more driver-friendly (for those who care about such things), and it caters to an even broader demographic.
You can start at Allan Road and stop by the Marilyn Monroe Café. An odd choice of name, but inside, this is as well designed a café, with pieces from Knoll and Dedon, as you're likely to see anywhere in the region. It’s the showcase for what's intended to be a franchise operation, headed out of a company called MM Café Franchise Inc. in Toronto’s Exchange Tower.
Half a block west on the other side of the street is Croissant Bakery Express, owned by Omid Noor, an Iranian transplant who bought the 30-year-old business 18 months ago, and spends his days in the back with the pastry chef. It’s an unprepossessing spot with unremarkable furniture, some generic posters of bread and a chalkboard menu behind the bar that leads the eye into the kitchen, which takes up half the place. After a bite of two of their moist and idiosyncratic cheese and cherry strudel, the space allotment makes sense. And two drinks and two pastries cost $7.
It’s the same price I paid for two sausages on the sidewalk barbeque a few blocks west in front of the locally vital but grammatically questionable Just an Olde Fashion Butchery & Seafood. It's the sort of place people hang out in, as a couple of guys munching on sausages were doing the day I dropped by, ostensibly trying to decide how big a roast to buy for a dinner party of 10 one of them was planning, but really just shooting the shit. The sausages, mild and spicy, are about the same price and double the size of anything you might get on the street in Toronto. It’s a casual, neighborhood place, but it offers a 10-year-old raw milk cheddar for $40 a pound. 
It's a fair stand-in for the strip as a whole: low meets high in a companionable setting.
There are many ash-blonde ladies of a certain age and class having their afternoon coffees and cake crumbs pressed into the backs of forks here. But there’s also the guys with their burgers at White Oak, a classic diner that opened at 240 Lakeshore East in 1972 and has not, apparently, seen any cause to alter or even brush up their white-and-blue sign in the intervening decades.
The diversity in class here makes up for its relative lack of racial difference, especially taking into consideration the fact the city’s one of Canada’s richest, with a median family income of more than $100,000.
Also odd for a strip in this part of the world, there are as many men’s clothing stores, and in as wide a range, as there are women’s.
There’s also a Timothy’s, a Starbucks and a Second Cup, which along with the aforementioned cafes are joined by yet another indie, The Green Bean. Owned by Artur Koczur, it’s probably the best of the lot. With its low lighting, dark wood, and a Moroccan-themed side room, The Green Bean is part of the new generation of GTA cafes that puts some thought into both its beans and the roasters it buys them from.
Andre Chiarelli, who’s worked at The Green Bean on and off for several years, says he was attracted to the place – both the café and the strip – when he made a stop in Oakville to visit a friend while travelling the world, taking a break from his native Brazil.
"I was trying to find some peace of mind," he says, "and I came here for a cup of coffee. I went out to the square, where I could smoke, and stood on the grass in the square, and then looked down the street, and I could see the lake, and it was so peaceful." Both Chiarelli and his husband have worked in several spots along the strip since then, and he says that though he likes Toronto, he prefers the Oakville strip. 
"Just look outside," he says. "The trees are different from the trees in Toronto. There's special attention to little flowers." He likes what he sees as a comfortable synthesis between posh and casual.
Directly next door to The Green Bean, in the same little dug out square set two or three metres below street level, is a surprisingly good Thai restaurant called Soontorn Bahn Thai. I say surprisingly good because I’m a Torontonian and signs of suburban sophistication always surprise me. I should stop. It’s not surprising at all. As we know, much of the best Korean, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, and now Thai food is to be found well outside the old city of Toronto.
There's a possibility that the strip may become a victim of its own success, however. According to Jasper Moester, membership services co-ordinator for the Oakville BIA and son of the owners of one of its longest-term business, florist Bloom ’84, they’re expecting five restaurants and nine retail shops to be opening in the next few months. There aren’t a lot of vacancies on this six-block strip, though according to Moster, some may be moving in to a new commercial-residential development just off the strip on Trafalgar. The venerably down-market Oakville Inn did a year ago September. I ask Moester what drove it under. "The same thing that's affecting a lot of businesses here," he says. "Taxes are going up, rent is going up."

He says White Oak is probably safe, since they own their building, but like most strips, this one's ruled by a few major landlords and property managers (in this case, Bentall Kennedy and Tazbros loom large), and major landlords like major tenants. Moester says a lot of shops he calls "Yorkville-reflective" have moved in recently, such as Anthropologie and Mendocino. And there are rumours that among those new retail tenants will be a Williams Sonoma and a Holt Renfrew (maybe one of the new hr2 concept stores that recently debuted in Montreal).
But Moester is sanguine about the strip’s future. "I’ve lived here all my life," he says, "and it’s always been like this. There are yoga groups and running groups, but also coffee groups, like the one that meets at White Oak every Sunday: blue collar and gold collar." He calls it a hybrid of Yorkville and Niagara-on-the-Lake, which is as apt a description as there may be.
And he may be right in his optimism. After the Oakville Inn closed, it didn’t become another beauty salon or boutique boulangerie. It’s now a Children’s Aid halfway house used to help kids in the system ease their way into post-secondary life. It's hard to picture that happening in Yorkville.
Bert Archer is Yonge Street's development editor. He writes this series exploring unique neighbourhoods in Toronto and the GTA. 

CORRECTION: This story originally suggested some business would have to close to allow space for new ones to open up on Lakeshore. Though this may be true, new businesses may also be moving into to an as yet unbuilt development just off the strip.
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