toronto distillery district

Distillery District stores worry when the tourists are going to come back

As the Canadian border remains closed, and traveling essentially becomes a thing of the past, businesses in Toronto's historic Distillery District are beginning to worry about the lack of tourism. 

Not only does the area attract locals with its smattering of shops, restaurants, and galleries, bit it also attracts countless tourists each year thanks to its picturesque cobblestone streets, the annual Festival of Lights, and of course, the ever-popular Christmas Market

Unfortunately, the pandemic has significantly limited the number of tourists visiting the city and the Distillery District this year, forcing the cancellation of many events that would draw these tourists and, of course, locals.

"Not having tourism is a killer," Janet Wright, owner of FloorPlay Socks told blogTO, adding that tourists made up about 70 per cent of her customers pre-pandemic.

"I have four stores, all of those other stores in October 2020 beat 2019 except for the store in the Distillery which is barely a tenth of my business. That store is so quiet compared to what it should be and it's because we don't have tourists."

While Wright said that she, of course, thinks it's the right thing to keep borders closed, she said that having no tourists is worrisome for business.

Although there will be a Winter Village, Wright's concerns are amplified by the fact that there will be no Christmas Market this year which typically draws a lot of locals.

At this point, Wright said that she's unsure whether to close the Distillery District store or keep allowing her other ones to carry it.

Cancelled Christmas Market cause for concern

Michelle Edgar, owner of The Sweet Escape bakery, also expressed concern over the fact that there will be no Christmas Market in the neighbourhood this year. 

"Right now it's the lack of the Christmas Market that has us concerned as that 6 week period can account for a large portion of our sales for the year," Edgar told blogTO. 

"The Distillery will still be decorated for the season and we will be offering a wide array of seasonal offerings so we hope this still brings people for a small taste of seasonal festivities." 

In the meantime, Edgar is grateful for the local community who have shown their support as she tries to compensate for the loss of tourism. 

"Tourism has always made up the majority of our business particularly in the summer months," she said.

"Compensating for the loss of tourism was difficult, as the other aspects of our business were also lost such as wedding cakes and catering for large events. The one bright spot has been the local community which has been a big help. Many people bought gift cards, cakes and even took the time to check in with us and voice their support."

Changing with the times

For BOKU Japanese Eats + Drinks, the lack of tourists in the Distillery has meant a drop in revenue of over 40 per cent. The restaurant's business consultant, TJ Gill, echoed Edgar and Wright's worries over not having a Christmas Market to rely on. 

"We anticipate the drop in revenue to be even higher for the next two months compared to this time last year, due to the cancellation of the Christmas Market," Gill said to blogTO. 

As a result, Gill said that the restaurant has pivoted to offering their food over third party delivery apps but that this, too, has proven difficult.

"Although we made the pivot to third party delivery apps, so did many, many other restaurants, causing that market to be flooded," she said. 

However, as Gill said, with every challenge comes an opportunity. 

"We are taking the time to try to engage with our neighbours and find out what they want, which has seen us beginning to offer more vegan dishes. Additionally, we are trying to cater to those who work in the Distillery District, by offering a 20 per cent discount to employees."

The SPORT Gallery is another local business that has also had to pivot during these difficult times. 

"We are boosting our online sales and our online presence through social media. We are always available to communicate with customers through social media and on our website through the chat system," manager Mark Scott told blogTO, adding that they are open every single day. 

As a small business, Scott said that they are also trying to rely on locals to ride the pandemic out. 

"A pandemic is not something anybody planned for. Having everyone from Toronto and the surrounding areas come out to the Distillery would be a major boost to the local businesses here," he said, while stressing that he wants everyone to be safe. 

With no tourists in sight and no clue as to when they'll come back, shopping local has never been more important. 

Lead photo by

Fareen Karim

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