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Toronto neighbourhoods are putting tombstones in shop windows

Tombstones displayed in the windows of shops across Toronto remind people of the fate many businesses face during the pandemic.

Lockdown measures have taken a toll on businesses. Toronto had 3,480 fewer business establishments by the end of 2020 than it did at the beginning of the year.

Small businesses have had it particularly hard and a new campaign from the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas called Buy Toronto Time, highlights the importance of supporting local businesses — if you don't, your favourite shop, restaurant, pub, or hair salon may die.

"Our customers need to know that the survival of local businesses is in their hands," says Tex Thomas, owner of Pro League Sports in The Beaches. "By shopping local they have the power to help us survive. So many businesses have already closed, people need to rally to save those of us who are left."

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Tex Thomas, owner of Pro League Sports is one of about 400 businesses taking part in the campaign. Finn Murray photo

More than 400 businesses across Toronto are displaying posters resembling tombstones in their windows. Each poster includes the business name and opening date, but the second date remains blank.

"When the poster arrived last week, with its gravestone image, I actually cried," Quince Flowers wrote. "There was a break in attempt the night before. People seem desperate. I don't want my business to die."

Buy Toronto Time is about the life or death of a business, says John Kiru, executive director, Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas.

"With a possible end to the pandemic in sight, Torontonians may think that means all businesses will live on. But the fact is they need support now more than ever," Kiru says.

Kiru tells blogTO the campaign idea came from Toronto advertising agency Berners Bowie Lee who offered to do the work for free to support the Toronto business community. Pro Print donated printing services, while Corus Media donated the billboard spaces.

The posters are offered to small businesses for free on a voluntary basis and along with a social media campaign.

Businesses that requested the posters are concentrated in the areas of Parkdale, Riverside, Leslieville, Broadview Danforth and Greektown on the Danforth with 28 BIAs participating.

As the pandemic drags on, small businesses find themselves deeper in debt. The average Canadian small business is $150,000 to 170,000 in debt, with 70 per cent of business owners coping with COVID-19-impacted debt, according to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

With so many business closures, Toronto's neighbourhoods will look different when we do finally emerge from the pandemic.

"Main streets aren't going to look the way they looked before this pandemic," Kiru says.

Kiru hopes the campaign will inspire people to support neighbourhood businesses.

"With this campaign, we hope to spur people into taking action to support their favourite local business while there's still time," he says.

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