A closure of a section of Queen Street downtown is disruptive and it could reduce pedestrian traffic in the normally busy area, business owners and workers say.
Ultimately, the closure of four blocks of Queen Street, from Bay to Victoria streets, for 4.5 years could reduce business itself, the business people said.
The closure, which began on Monday, is due to construction of the future Queen station of the Ontario Line. The station is one of 15 new stations on the line that will stretch from Exhibition Place to the Ontario Science Centre.
Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency, says the closure applies to drivers and cyclists but not to pedestrians. Downtown businesses remain open. TTC detours are in place. Metrolinx has promised business owners that pedestrian traffic will continue as usual.
At least one convenience store owner is concerned that the closure could force him into bankruptcy, while one business worker said the closure is already making people late for appointments. A business association says the full impact of the closure is not yet known.
Salim Merchant, a franchisee of the INS Market, a convenience store on the southwest corner of Victoria Street and Queen Street East, said he bought the franchise in November 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, and the closure is another hit to his business.
“I thought that I might make some extra bread and butter for my family, but even it’s hard to get bread and butter for me,” Merchant said on Monday.
Merchant said he gets 50 to 70 customers per day now that some office workers have returned downtown, but the closure makes him worried about the future.
“We are using our own capital — investing and investing — but we are getting nothing from the business now,” he said.
“I’m only seeing one door open and that is going to a bankruptcy. I don’t see any other doors in front of me. We are not getting any single cent of relief on the rent. How are we going to survive?”
WATCH | CBC’s Julia Knope explains what you need to know about the closure:
For Jonel Franco, a barber at Urban Philosophy Men’s Grooming on Richmond Street East, the closure could last longer than expected. He described it as “a big inconvenience for everybody.”
“We have a lot of clients that are showing up late because of the traffic and everything like that, trying to get over here, because most of our clients drive,” he said.
“Time is precious, time is of the essence, and a lot of people just don’t have that extra time.”
Gail Packwood, managing director at the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre Centre on Yonge Street, said she wants patrons to know that the theatre is open for business.
“It’s really about the optics of getting down here,” she said.
Packwood said her main concern is the dome in the Elgin Theatre because it could be vulnerable to vibration once construction gets underway. The dome is held up by wire cables.
“They have assured us that we won’t feel anything so we’re hoping for the best,” she said.
Packwood has Metrolinx contacts in her phone in case there are problems.
James Wattie, spokesperson for Metrolinx, said the agency is doing what it calls “early works” before construction gets underway on the Ontario Line. He said it is a full closure, not only work on weekends, and the approach is to shut it down and complete the project. Yonge Street is open as north and south route.
“We’ve learned a lot of lessons from other past projects, like the Eglinton Crosstown. But we’re working closely with our contractor to make sure that that everything is done as quickly as possible and as safely as possible,” he said.
“This is a very dense area of the city with infrastructure both above and below the road. We’re kind of just getting this area ready for the the major construction.”
Wattie said the closure will speed up construction for the project by roughly one year. He declined to say when heavy construction will begin.
‘There’s a lot of unknowns,’ BIA says
Meg Marshall, manager of the Queen Street West BIA, which represents 250 businesses further west on Queen Street West between Simcoe and Bathurst Streets, said business owners are anxious about the closure because they haven’t fully recovered from the pandemic.
“There’s a lot of unknowns because we don’t really know what the economic impact will be. It’s just another challenge that businesses don’t really know how to forecast for.”