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As businesses begin slow rebound, retailers in Toronto’s PATH system continue to struggle

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WATCH ABOVE: Retailers and restaurants are slowly returning to a new normal as Ontario continues to make moves to reopen. But as Erica Vella reports, some businesses in the city’s PATH system say that hasn’t been the case for them – Oct 19, 2021

Andre Vassi’s menswear store has been open in Toronto’s underground PATH system for 25 years and while the last 19 months have been a challenge he doesn’t anticipate it will get easier any time soon.

“The PATH system is a very unique retail environment,” he told Global News.

Vassi said sales at his store were down 95 per cent because of the COVID-19 pandemic and only recently has he seen a slight improvement. But while businesses with street-level locations are slowly rebounding, he said that hasn’t been the case for him.

“Our business a few months ago was down 95 per cent and now we are down 75 per cent,” Vassi said.

Read more: Toronto’s Financial District, underground PATH braces for longer recovery as businesses reopen

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“Other retailers that have been open on the street level there are more activities, people are out there they are doing some shopping. But if you look at the PATH, it’s totally deserted.”

With many still working from home, offices in the area have not seen the same sort of volume of people and foot traffic has decreased in the area.

Jordan Karp, executive vice-president and head of Canadian retail services at Savills Canada said international travel for business and tourism is also affecting the city’s downtown core.

“It’s not just the officer workers … the international business traveler who is slowly trickling back and then there is the leisure traveler,” he said.

Read more: ‘Ghost town’ in the PATH as retailers in downtown Toronto indoor networks wait out COVID-19

“That’s a big part of downtown at street level and below street level … The retailers are going to have to change their game a little. They are going to have to make the shopping experience that much easier on the consumer and maybe hours are going to change.”

Commercial real-estate company Avison Young has been monitoring foot traffic in 23 major cities in North America, and in Toronto the company’s vitality index found foot traffic in the downtown is down 84 per cent compared to pre-pandemic levels.

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“Downtown Toronto foot traffic remains lower than compared to pre-pandemic levels,” Ali Fieder, vice president for Avison Young’s retail services group, said in a statement, adding business will increase in the PATH system in the future.

“The PATH is a strong, viable retail environment and we expect there will be a recovery albeit a little further on the horizon, hinging on when office workers return.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Toronto retailer feeling the bylaw blues while trying to reach customers outdoors

“PATH retail continues to face challenges because it is directly tied to office towers above, where visitor volumes have dropped significantly during the pandemic. Many retailers are looking at strategies to tie reopening and their rent obligations to office occupancy.”

Vassi said he too is confident that business will return to the PATH system, but a solution needs to be made in the interim to help bolster those businesses.

“The PATH needs a particular solution that is different from any other retail space in the country,” he said.

“The future is going to be bright … but the question is how many of us to get to that point to get the fruit of waiting.”

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