Toronto’s financial district and underground PATH brace for longer recovery as businesses reopen – Toronto

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TORONTO – For the past 34 years, Alex Zilberberg’s mornings have started with such a strong line of customers that his The Bagel Stop branches do 70% of their business before 10 a.m.

But since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the hustle and bustle has vanished from Toronto’s financial district and the underground PATH system that its franchisees occupy.

“I used to say I’ve seen it all,” said Zilberberg, who co-founded the bagel chain with his brother-in-law Felix Zonenberg in 1987.

“We’ve been through good times and bad, but these are by far the worst times I’ve ever seen.”

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Business at The Bagel Stop’s dozens of locations has declined by as much as 90% in some weeks, and like many businesses in the area, he has little hope that they will pick up quickly.

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While Ontario’s plan to reopen has brought customers back to businesses in most corners of the city, office towers in the financial district and connected to PATH _ a 30-mile stretch of stores and underground restaurants _are still largely unoccupied as companies allow their staff to continue working from home.

Business owners fear that a lack of foot traffic and an appetite to get back to the office could mean that a recovery will take months, if not years, and put them far behind companies operating in other areas that are less dependent. from the working crowd.

“The best real estate in Canada suddenly became the worst real estate in Canada, literally overnight,” said Zilberberg, who has offices at Commerce Court, Brookfield Place, Scotia Plaza and TD Center.

In addition to places where food traffic has declined, he said places have also made food delivery patterns too difficult to follow, as most couriers won’t take the time to scour the PATH to pick up orders and few want to leave their bikes or cars. parked outside.

Yet some of its franchisees are preparing to welcome customers every day.

“Those who are open say, ‘I can probably make as much money being closed as being open because all I do is just flip inventory, which literally makes a mouthful of bread.’ , did he declare.

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“But they say, ‘I’d rather sit in the store and have my face there and see all the customers that I can. “‘

Zilberberg hopes some people will return to work and resume their coffee and bagel habits in the fall, but he’s not convinced everyone will return to the area.

“The franchisees… haven’t made a dime in the last year and a half, and they can’t make it for the next year and a half,” he said.

“No one can make a living from home for three years in a row, which in itself is going to be a problem.”

Zilberberg doesn’t expect business to rebound to pre-pandemic levels until at least 2022.

Even when people return to the area, he fears some will visit as often as before, as they will have more flexible working arrangements and others will avoid confined spaces where the virus can more easily spread.

© 2021 The Canadian Press


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