Several years into the construction of the 19-kilometre Eglinton Crosstown LRT line in midtown Toronto, many businesses cite a decline in foot traffic on the street as an ongoing concern, despite efforts by the government agency responsible for the project to draw customers to the area.
Eglinton “is a walkable street, but it’s definitely seen a decline in foot traffic,” said Ivan Tanzer, gallery manager of the Petroff Gallery, which is situated between Allen Road and Bathurst Street, a stretch that’s home to many Jewish businesses.
Though Tanzer said that the gallery – which has been at this location for 20 years – is more of a “destination” for customers, he has noticed that business has declined as a result of fewer walk-ins. The gallery is working to maintain an e-commerce website to compensate for the drop in sales.
More of a newcomer to the area is 3SK Cafe, a Kosher kitchen and coffee shop that caters to a tight-knit local crowd. The cafe opened two years ago, when construction was already in progress.
Amanda Rose, who owns the business with her husband, Michael Gans, said she has noticed that the locals don’t walk the street as much anymore. She often hears from residents who are shocked to learn that her business has been open as long as it has.
“People who live in the neighbourhood will come and say, ‘how long have you guys been open?’ and I’ll say ‘two years,’ and they say, ‘oh my gosh, two years? I can’t believe I didn’t know that you existed,’ because people aren’t coming out on the street as much anymore,” she said.
Metrolinx, the provincial government agency behind the project, has made efforts to draw customers to the street with an initiative called Experience Eglinton, which helps promote the businesses along the street.
Metrolinx also offers $10,000 a year for each business improvement area that can be used to fund advertising, festivals and events. It also offers discount codes for people to receive $6 off their parking at municipal lots.
“Under the circumstances (Metrolinx is) making an effort,” said Joseph Segal, the owner of Israel’s Judaica.
Even so, Segal said the main issue is that potential customers are intimidated by the traffic and the general inaccessibility of the street. He doesn’t think that will change until construction is complete, which is projected to be in 2021.
“The mindset of many of our customers is still that Eglinton is a no-go zone,” he said. Some customers eventually realize that the store is easily accessible, he added, but the decline in foot traffic comes from those that don’t even bother trying.
He also said that the business is fortunate that it hasn’t been completely blocked off by the construction – an issue he said has affected many other businesses.
One of those is Yit’z Deli, which has been completely hidden away by the construction. The deli’s owner, Barry Silver, said the restaurant has suffered from significant declines in walk-ins as a result.
“There is no walk-by traffic, so you’re not creating new customers, because half of them don’t even know that we’re open because they can’t see us,” he said.
The Jewish deli, which has been open since 1972, is virtually invisible as a result of the electrical vaults and other construction equipment that are fencing off the front of the restaurant.
Though Silver said the deli has maintained a loyal following of customers after over 45 years in business, the lack of visibility has caused its sales to take a hit.
Metrolinx has draped an “Open During Construction” sign on top of the deli, and an additional sign on the closed sidewalk in front of the store.
Nonetheless, Silver said that “the perception in the Jewish community is that we are closed. That’s the rumour that has spread.”
Adding to the inaccessibility of the restaurant, he said, is that construction workers park on the street out front for hours at a time, preventing spots from turning over.
Silver said the deli has embraced online food delivery services, to try and compensate for the decline in walk-ins
Apart from that, he said he hopes the fencing will be taken down soon and that the mindset in the community will shift.
“We’re not gone,” he said. “Customers who want to find us can find us. We’re here.”