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Businesses in Toronto PATH system hope to rebound as workers return to the office

Business people gathered around high tables

By Mark McAllister 

Toronto’s PATH system went dark at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic when most of the financial district shifted to working from home, but with many companies bringing their employees back to work, stores and restaurants are hoping to recover. 

The walkways, constructed in 1900, connect more than 75 buildings in the downtown core and feature 1,200 restaurants, shops and services. 

Before the pandemic hit, the 30 kilometres of retail shopping, services, and restaurants generated roughly $1.7 billion in annual sales, but those numbers dropped off considerably with expansive store closures. 

The hope is that things will pick up as people start flowing through again. 

Real estate company Avison Young has been tracking the return to work and shopping centres over the last two years. The weekday visitor volume is increasing week-over-week since the beginning of 2022 and is up 56 per cent since March 2020, while shopping centre foot traffic is up 249 per cent over 2020. 

“Higher foot traffic, as people return to the office, will benefit retail spaces including those tied to office towers such as the PATH,” read a statement from Avison Young’s Vice-President retail services group Ali Fielder. 

Vice President of the Economic Blueprint Institute with the Toronto Region Board of Trade, Marcy Burchfield, says they have been tracking the economic recovery of the financial district since last fall. 

Despite a decrease in traffic in January during the spike of cases related to the Omicron variant of COVID-19, Burchfield said, “We’re seeing a slow rise and the return of workers and the return of even visitors to the downtown particularly the financial district in that came with an uptick in consumer spending.” 

Lauren Shelton, manager at Nadège Patisserie in the PATH, said they had spent the last couple of weeks getting ready for foot traffic to increase. 

“It’s been a little bit hard with the PATH being closed and not having the offices open, so this is our first opportunity to re-launch with everyone starting to go back to work,” said Shelton. 

“It’s exciting nice to see people walking around not always having masks on and seeing everything kind of reopen.” 

She said while it still hasn’t returned to prior levels, people are starting to come back down to the PATH. 

“Once businesses are open and can stay open that they do rebound. There is an economic rebound that’s happening, and people want to come back to those big events, those restaurants, and all of the activity that was in this area before the pandemic,” said Burchfield. 

The Manager at Moneysworth & Best, Kiarsh Akbarpour, said most of their customers are still office workers. “A lot of people still work at home, but maybe about 20 per cent [are] back to work.” 

Mayor John Tory said Monday people are starting to come back to work, and transit agencies are beginning to ramp up their services in response. 

“People coming back to work downtown is very, very important, and I’ve talked to the major employers, and many are having people come back in the next week or two,” said Tory. 

“I think many workers want to come back to work, and we are certainly working hard to make sure that the transit system is very safe and so people can ride it with confidence and come back to work downtown.” 

This story originally appeared online on CityNews Toronto

About Toronto Region Board of Trade

The Toronto Region Board of Trade is one of the largest and most influential business chambers in North America and is a catalyst for the region’s economic agenda. We pursue policy change to drive the growth and competitiveness of the Toronto region and facilitate market opportunities with programs, partnerships and connections to help our members succeed – domestically and internationally.

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