Church Street businesses look to Pride to ‘climb out of the hole’ caused by pandemic

More than 200,000 marchers are expected to attend Sunday’s Pride Parade and more than a million people are expected to attend related events during the celebrations, which follow pre-pandemic norms for businesses in the epicenter of Toronto’s LGBTQ+ community. would be a welcome return.

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“We really need to get these sales out of the hole, after two years of limited or no sales,” said Dean Odorico, one of the general managers of Woody’s & Cellar, a performance and dance club on Church Street. “It will take a long time to make up for the time lost.”

Local businesses are still grappling with significant losses related to the pandemic over the past two years. Toronto lost 3,090 businesses between 2020 and 2021, according to the city’s annual employment survey.

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Odorico said his business had no income during the first year of the pandemic and that in the second year it was limited due to capacity restrictions and other COVID-19 regulations.

During those two years the club did not have the finances to repair the fixtures and other equipment needed for the performance space, which still had to be done, as thousands of dollars were spent on plexiglass dividers, air purifiers, disinfection products and other PPE. Were.

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“It may take many years to recover the loss,” he said.

According to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), 80 percent of all Toronto businesses haven’t fully recovered, while 29 percent haven’t even started to recover and worry they never will. The average COVID-19 loan for a Toronto small business is over $280,000.

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Pride celebrations are a big part of the city’s tourism business, which has been hit hard by the lockdown and limited travel, said Andrew Weir, executive vice president of Destination Toronto. In 2019, Toronto generated $10.3 billion in visitor spending in 2019, but lost $7.5 billion in 2020 and $5 billion in 2021.

And though travel is on the rise, it will take some time to recover with urban destinations lagging behind, he said.

“During the pandemic people went camping and went to resorts wanting to move away from the city,” Veer said. “It’s important that we show people that now is the time to come back and that festivals like Pride do this.”

Odorico hopes this year’s Pride will do the same. “Tourism is not even close to pre-pandemic levels, but Pride may be the event to bring them back.”

Sherwin Modest, executive director of Pride Toronto, said concerts and events for the month before the pandemic generated $1.6 million to $2.7 million in revenue, with similar numbers projected for this year. In 2019, Pride Month supported 3,500 temporary jobs and generated $149 billion in tax revenue.

“Pride greatly affects the entire economy of Toronto,” he said. “But LGBTQ+-driven businesses in particular will benefit from the sheer volume of people coming to the city to celebrate.”

For the summer, Pride Toronto has hired more than 270 local drag artists, performers, musicians and DJs for a variety of events that help those who have been hurt the most financially by the pandemic, Modest said. Told. There is also a food truck area to support local eateries and entrepreneurs.

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“We’ve been seeing a steady increase in revenue since indoor dining went into effect over the winter,” said Keir McRae, one of the owners of Hair of the Dog, a pub and restaurant on Church Street, “but in June we’re sure Look for a jump in sales. June is our busiest month.”

He added that this year, Gaurav feels different. Customers who usually turn away during the festival due to the noise and big crowd are eager to join it this year.

“We expect a busy week and a return to pre-2020 crowd numbers,” he said. “I don’t think this year because of COVID, pride will subside.”

Gary Brown, executive director of PRISM Events, is hosting five indoor and two outdoor events over Pride Weekend, and has sold 10,000 tickets to date. They are expected to sell around 14,000 tickets in total.

“Pride has huge implications for the hospitality industry,” he said. “Hotels, restaurants and bars all need it.”

But COVID-19 cases are still being reported everyday and with the arrival of monkeypox in Toronto, Modest said the celebration must follow public health guidelines.

“There is excitement this year, but there is also anxiety,” he said. “We are not completely out of the pandemic yet.”

He said the COVID-19 policies include regular cleaning schedules, signage to indicate wearing of masks and social distancing, and online programs for people who are not comfortable in large crowds. Pride Toronto also extended the venue of the festival to Nathan Phillips Square to ensure it was not as overcrowded as in previous years.

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Modest said that working with Toronto Public Health and Public Health Ontario, festival attendees will distribute monkeypox brochures to provide accurate information as well as adequate pointers.

Storm Crow manager Sarah Cannon said sales are back in full force. Since the restaurant has the largest courtyard on Church Street, customers who are not comfortable indoors have an outdoor option.

“There’s a lot of anticipation because people haven’t been able to celebrate properly for the past two years,” Cannon said. “I think it will be the best Pride ever.”

Clarrie Feinstein is a Toronto-based staff reporter for The Star. Reach Clari via email: [email protected]

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