On my way to War Resister Support Campaign meetings every week, I pass Rotman's Hat Shop, a dusty anachronism, and I wonder, who owns this place? Is it really still in business? Who is Rotman, whose Jewish last name stands alone among the Chinese novelty stores and Vietnamese pho shops? And a hat store, like a typewriter repair shop, is itself a piece of the past.
The Kensington Market/Chinatown area bears some similarity to New York's Lower East Side, where a few ancient synagogues and famous Jewish delis hang on as proof of the past. The Jewish community whose teeming poverty once made the Lower East Side the most densely populated blocks on earth has long since moved on, giving way to successive waves of immigrant groups, to artists and revolutionaries and junkies, and now to developers, high-end restaurants and boutique hotels. Although my knowledge of Toronto history is scant, I sensed that Rotman's must be part of the same pattern.
A story in yesterday's Globe and Mail explained the familiar tale to me: David Rotman, the last of Spadina's Jewish merchants has sold the building and retired. It's a nice story, worth reading if you like these urban tales.
Rotman's on Flickr: here, here and here, among many others.