distillery district stores

Stores in the Distillery District say they can't get any rent relief from landlords

Small businesses in the Distillery District are worried they will be forced to close permanently if they don't get some rent relief soon.  

"It's deep trouble for me and for a lot of other retailers," said Melissa Austria, owner of Gotstyle.  

"We definitely can't pay May and we for sure can't pay June. You can't have two and a half months of no business coming in and expect to survive." 

The majority of the businesses in the Distillery District lease their spaces from Mathew Rosenblatt and John Berman, two of four partners in Cityscape Development, which co-owns the Distillery with Dundee Realty

According, to Austria and the other businesses blogTO spoke to they have yet to be offered any rent relief from any of the landlords. 

"I got a call from John Berman at the end of March telling me to pay April rent in full and that we'll work something out for May," recounted  one Distillery District store owner blogTO spoke with. 

But when May came the full rent cheque came out. 

"I was expecting [them] to do the right thing! This will be the last month I will be able to stay in business. Online sales are not enough to keep me in business, I'm still paying internet and hydro. I can't pay rent on a store that's not making any income," added the store owner.

Businesses in the area have been doing what they can to survive such as increasing their online presence, as well as offering delivery or curbside pickup but it's simply not making enough of a difference.

"We're trying to pivot and come up with new ways of doing business but it's not the same," said Austria.  

And while some have managed to squeak by and pay the last couple months rent others haven't been so lucky.

One former business owner and tenant told blogTO he couldn't make it work with his Distillery District shop. 

"We were not able to ride it out as there was no relief from the beginning," he said.  

And according to emails forwarded to blogTO, there doesn't seem to be relief coming to the businesses in the Distillery District anytime soon.

"We are waiting for additional details from the government to confirm the qualification criteria, as well as how the grant will be distributed.  As soon as this information is provided, we will reach out to Tenants with next steps," The Distillery District Management Team wrote about the CECRA Program in an email on May 15, 2020 to the tenants. 

The email sent on May 15 also outlined that the site will be reopening as of Tuesday, May 19 in accordance with the new rules under the Ontario government's Stage 1 economic recovery plan which permits retail stores with street entrances to reopen their doors to shoppers.

"They've given us four days to get sanitizer and masks. There's no guidelines. How do we open?" said one store owner, panicked about getting their store up and running in time.  

Further, tenants are concerned about how they're going to make rent even after being allowed to reopen.

According to one store owner, businesses in the Distillery District rely heavily on tourism and events like the Christmas Market to make the majority of their income. 

With tourism expected to be virtually non-existent this year along with the Christmas Market likely being cancelled, many stores are unlikely to survive. 

The Distillery District landlords have not responded to requests for comment.

Lead photo by

Sanjiv Avdicevic

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