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Friday, 3 November 2006

Take Frank's Alley, do not pass Four Seasons opera house

By RICK SALUTIN Friday, Toronto Globe and Mail, Friday June 21, 2002 Print Edition, Page A25 [with the kind permission of the author]

While wandering around a neighbourhood party at little Healey Willan Park last weekend (kids getting face-painted, people raffling Blue Jays tickets), I signed a petition to call the lane running from the park up to Harbord Street Frank's Alley. Nice idea -- and no gimme, given the bureaucratic hoops. I'd noticed Frank's Garage on Harbord, which I used for decades, was up for rent. Frank Kovac must have retired. He had said his kids didn't want to take it over (too greasy) and he'd been ill, his frame had dwindled, his hands tremored, which is not great for tune-ups. But no, I learned, he died in April. Lots of people felt warmly toward him, it turns out, though he wasn't one of your standard colourful characters. He "kept your car on the road," even if he didn't always use top-of-the-line parts; he let local people park there; he installed car seats for newborns as a present. He didn't do it for "goodwill," he wouldn't have known the concept. Gratitude discomfited him. He was understated, and amiable. Like Marv Freeman, come to think of it, who ran a fabled corner store at Bathurst and Olive. Marv put a pay phone in so people wouldn't have to stand outside in bad weather. If a mom came to the cash with something her kid had bought earlier that day, he'd tell her not to bother. He was laconic, too, so when he heard I'd be moving away, and I came in to get some stuff from the fridge at the back, his voice floated hoarsely over the shelves: "Gonna miss you, Rick." For him, that was an explosion. One day he just quit, irked past the limit by one of the endless irritations of small business. People massed a few weeks later for a communal photo in front of the store, but he didn't show. He'd have been amazed. Last thing I heard was through my mother. She said a guy named Marvin who delivered her Meals on Wheels sent regards. So their "public" side, their sense of service and community, was no mere offshoot of business needs. If anything, it was the opposite. They were shy guys with a public sense, who used their small enterprises as an excuse to express that impulse. rsalutin@globeandmail.ca

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