Downtown Yonge Street in Toronto Sees Foot Traffic Exceed Pre-Pandemic Levels [Interview]


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Pedestrian traffic in the Downtown Yonge neighbourhood in Toronto continues to be on the upswing with some impressive numbers from the holiday shopping season.

“I’ve spoken to a number of our retailers, shopping centres and commercial spaces and I think the general feeling is that recovery has been pretty solid over the holiday period,” said Pauline Larsen, Executive Director of the Downtown Yonge Business Improvement Area.

“Economic recovery is not a linear thing but we’re definitely getting positive feedback.”

Yonge Street (Image: Dustin Fuhs)

She said from December 23 to January 2 foot traffic was up 11 per cent versus pre-pandemic in 2019.

Pauline Larsen

“We were very pleased to see that,” said Larsen, adding there was a snowstorm on December 23.

“We were wondering if that would have a big impact but it looks like we were overall up even on pre-pandemic levels.”

She said that on Boxing Day the neighbourhood experienced a 19 per cent increase in foot traffic compared to 2019. There was more than 160,000 people on that day that were counted on the BIA’s stretch of Yonge Street. 

CF Toronto Eaton Centre on Saturday, November 26, 2022 (Image: Dustin Fuhs)

And on December 31, there was a 23 per cent increase in foot traffic compared to 2019.

“Overall, pretty pleased with that. Strong foot traffic. Pre-pandemic levels. We’ve seen a strong showing for food services, we’ve seen a strong showing for retail, and services have definitely been the third category in what we’ve seen with the numbers,” said Larsen.

“I think this is the first holiday season that we’ve had for several years where people have been able to get out, walk around the neighbourhood, do their shopping in person and I think there’s an enormous appetite for that – to be out and about, if I can put it that way.

“One of the most successful things we did over the late November, December period is we do a holiday map of all the holiday lights in the neighbourhood. That was well used and downloaded and well supported. We saw an appetite for people to be out in the neighbourhood doing interesting things.

“The CF Toronto Eaton Centre had snowfalls in the mall. They actually had snow falling in the mall over the holiday shopping season and it seems that was very, very well received and popular.

“I guess the way I would put it is that people were just happy to be part of hustle and bustle again.”

Also, theatre was strong during the holiday period.

Larsen said the BIA’s latest audit of retail space in the neighbourhood saw vacancy drop to about 12 per cent, which is a 1.5 per cent decrease from the previous quarter.

“That for us is very positive and strong as well,” she said.

Yonge Street, South of Gerrard (Image: Dustin Fuhs)

The Downtown Yonge Business Improvement Area is a catalyst for creating vibrant urban experiences and events in the heart of downtown Toronto. Representing more than 2,000 businesses and their employees, as well as the broader community of residents, students and visitors, the DYBIA champions attractive public spaces, popular events, safety and cleanliness. It plays an active role both at street level and in boardrooms, advocating for a thriving and diverse community of retailers, restaurants and services.

The Downtown Yonge BIA’s Q4 2022 Economic Newsletter, indicated that neighbourhood spend steadily increased over the first eight months of 2022, signaling a positive return of visitors, shoppers, employees and students. 

“The three largest sectors in Downtown Yonge (Retail, Services & Foodservice) all saw significant gains when compared to the beginning of the year. Downtown Yonge also saw pedestrian volumes surpass 2019 levels for the first time since 2020, a strong indicator of where recovery is headed. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and into early recovery, commercial retail has stayed relatively stable in Downtown Yonge, with a slight improvement in the overall vacancy rate observed in the Fall. The return to work for many offices is in full swing, with occupancy in some downtown Toronto office towers peaking at 60 per cent during the mid-week. However, overall, the office occupancy remains 36 per cent as of November 2022,” said the report.

“The Downtown Yonge BIA saw nearly $200 million in transactions using debit and credit through Moneris payment portals between January and August 2022 across all sectors. The Foodservice industry saw a 160 per cent increase in number of transactions in August compared to January 2022, while Retail saw a 300 per cent increase in number of transactions for the same comparison periods.

“Pedestrian traffic has been steadily improving in 2022, with pedestrian flows surpassing 2019 levels for the first time since the pandemic began. September 2022 saw many encouraging changes, including the full return of in-person classes at Toronto Metropolitan University, which lead to the 32 per cent increase in pedestrian flows in September 2022 compared to August 2022. October 2022 saw the first time the pedestrian flows surpassed 2019 levels since March 2020, reaching just below five million people.”

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.


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