path toronto

Toronto PATH businesses fret as hybrid office work threatens their existence

Walk any Toronto street and you're bound to find at least a few shuttered businesses, but things are even worse below ground in the city's sprawling PATH network.

Since the start of the pandemic, many of the PATH's approximately 1,200 businesses have suffered within the over 30 kilometres of subterranean pedestrian tunnels and connected concourses snaking through the downtown core.

Hundreds of these businesses remain shuttered despite the return to (mostly) normal for dining and shopping, as people gravitate more toward businesses with street-fronting presences.

Though business in the PATH has been gradually picking up since mass vaccination programs helped reopen the city, business owners are concerned over the hybrid model that sees office workers split their time between home and the office.

The PATH system's businesses rely almost entirely on foot traffic from commuters and office workers, drawing in around 200,000 workers on the average weekday before the pandemic struck.

Reuters is reporting that sales dropped by 80 per cent for a Second Cup coffee shop that has been part of the PATH for 11 years, its owner worried that the business won't survive as workers in the office towers above welcome the hybrid model.

Bryan Archee, who owns the Second Cup location, tells blogTO, "at the moment, we're getting about 220 customers a day. Before we were making over 1,000 transactions per day. At the height of lockdown, we were making only 70 transactions a day."

For businesses like Archee's, government subsidies and landlord leniency programs have been all that stands between their shops and restaurants closing their doors for good, though these programs are only temporary.

"Fortunately, our landlord, Brookfield Corporation, is one of the largest property owners in the world so they have the financial capacity to help us," Archee says.

"They were very good to us and we were lucky. Without their help, we wouldn't have survived at all."

Offices are gradually repopulating and could reach about 50 per cent capacity by the end of the year.

But even with the bump in traffic, flow through the PATH still might not be enough to sustain the kinds of businesses that rely on the office lunch rush.

This decreased traffic could lead to a shift in the types of stores and dining spots that will eventually open to fill the many vacancies left behind within the world's biggest underground retail hub.

Lead photo by

Fareen Karim

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