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Construction work frustrates West Queen West businesses ahead of ‘most important’ retail sales month | CBC News

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Business owners in the West Queen West area are up in arms over the city’s closure of a number of streets to facilitate construction work, during what they describe as a crucial time for sales.

The West Queen West business improvement area and its members said they are “begging and pleading” with Mayor John Tory, councillors and the Toronto Transit Commission to show some leadership and compassion for small businesses this December — “the most important retail sales month.”

“The construction is necessary [but] the timing is awful. It’s Christmas,” business owner Von Lichtenberg told CBC News.

“The merchants are bleeding money. We’ve lost about 65-75 per cent of our businesses in the last two years to COVID, to federal, provincial and municipal lockdowns.”

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Lichtenberg — who has operated a business in the area for 28 years — said the city and the province are not interested in small businesses. 

“Small mom and pop shops are dying. There isn’t going to be any of us [in] the next 10-12 years along Queen Street West,” he said. 

Von Lichtenberg has operated a retail business at West Queen West for 28 years. He says the city and the province are not interested in small businesses. (CBC)

“I’m not saying you’ve got to feel bad for us, this is the way of the world. But the small, independent owner-operated businesses are disappearing, and that’s partly because the city doesn’t care. This is not a city for small businesses … it just isn’t.”

Erin Plank, another business owner, said the current situation is “bad.”

“We had to play around with limiting our hours due to the less foot traffic in the area. They have put up fencing along the sides of the road, so that’s been a little inconvenient with having people walking across this and still attempting to bike and [it] feels a little unsafe,” Plank told CBC News. 

“Queen Street, it’s all foot traffic and people need to easily be able to access the transit in the area. So that’s been the most inconvenient for sure.”

Plank said she’s seen a 20 per cent drop in weekly revenue because of the construction happening in the area.

Additionally, Plank said November is one of the slowest months of the year, “so having the construction added to that it’s very inconvenient for our sales.”

Business owner Erin Plank says she’s seen a 20 per cent drop in weekly revenue because of the construction work. (CBC)

Meanwhile, at least one business in the area has been forced to close due to the ongoing construction work.

“The closure of Queen Street during the holiday shopping period, it was the final nail in the coffin,” said Dave Auger, general manager of 817 Sports Bar.

“Now the undertaker is here, and 817 Sports Bar is closed.” 

Robert Sysak, executive director of the West Queen West business improvement area, described the situation as “devastating.”

“[There are] people out of work in December on the holidays. There’s a business gone,” Sysak told CBC Toronto.

Sysak said West Queen West lost more than 50 business over the course of the pandemic, and he’s worried that even more might close down permanently because of the ongoing construction work.

City accelerating work to reduce disruption

Toronto and the TTC have coordinated a number of infrastructure upgrades on Queen Street West, the city said on its website.

These include:

  • Replacement of streetcar track from Bay Street to Fennings Street.
  • Replacement of streetcar track at the intersection of Queen Street West and Shaw Street.
  • Replacement of watermain and City-owned portion of substandard water services from Bay Street to University Avenue.
  • Improvements to the streetscape along Queen Street West, in partnership with the Queen Street West Business Improvement Area.

The city said it is now “accelerating this work to reduce disruption to area businesses during the holiday season.” 

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