(CHFI’s float in the Santa Claus Parade/ by: Deanna Grant)
It seems like huge crowds visiting the Annex would be great for business, but they’re not.
Businesses in the Annex face different problems than those in the mall, who have a steady stream of customers even when temperatures dip below zero.
In the Annex, owners and managers have to be ready to adapt to changes regularly. Festivals, parades, and marathons run through the neighbourhood year-round. On event days, a steady stream of customers is unpredictable and profits are not guaranteed.
The latest challenge for the neighbourhood is the annual Santa Clause Parade which has marched through the Annex since its inception 110 years ago. With its’ new MLSE partnership, attendance is expected to be at an all-time high. The new Toronto Raptors, Maple Leafs hockey and soccer themed floats add to the now 31-float, 21-band parade that marches nearly 6 kilometers.
The route, which starts at Christie Pitts Park and Bloor St. West moves Eastbound past St. George St. bringing thousands of people into the Annex who may not visit the neighbourhood otherwise. Brian Burchell, chair of the Annex BIA, says the parade has a mixed impact on businesses in the area.
“For some businesses, it’s close to a security concern for bathroom use, like Starbucks for example. It creates a cleaning challenge,” says Burchell, “but no one can dispute that when you bring thousands onto the street that you get exposure.”
Despite hordes of new visitors to the Annex, some managers still disagree with Burchell.
“Originally we thought it was gonna be good because there was gonna be tons of people on the street. It’s good exposure, but when people stand on the street they don’t move,” says Dean Labreche, owner of Famoso Pizzeria. “People could be standing in front of a business four doors down and never walk in front of my business,” says Labreche.
Parade-goers typically arrive early to stalk out a good view of Saint Nick, sometimes even with ladders in tow for their children to see over the crowds. Groups of people form in front of storefronts that become invisible to possible customers.
“Sorry to sound like a Grinch, but generally speaking business slows quite a bit during events that require street closures,” says Michel Sauve, the owner of Midoco. “I think that the folks who attend these types of events don’t really come to shop. And, I imagine, our customers can’t get to us because of the street closure.”
Midoco is a craft and stationary store at Bathurst and Bloor St. West which gets a good deal of business because of its accessibility and proximity to the University of Toronto. It’s not the only retail store to suffer from the parade.
Most retail clothing stores along Bloor St. West assume a slower than normal day until the parade floats by and the streets open up to the public again.
Labreche’s dining room fills up as the parade ends, there is one turnover, and then it goes back to being a normal Sunday afternoon.
“We’ll do more business than a typical Sunday, but that’s it. People coming in here aren’t spending a lot of money. They’re families,” says Labreche.
Targeting families, Pauper’s Pub has figured out a way to capitalize on the crowds by selling hot chocolate and apple cider on the sidewalk. Other restaurants have tried to do the same by handing out free tea and free bread to entice new customers.
“It is a good business opportunity in a way but weird because people are very focused on the parade,” Janet Lorenco, manager of Pauper’s Pub says. “Then there are so many people on the street they just want to get out of there because they’re freezing and have cranky kids, so we hand out flyers to welcome people to our restaurant afterwards and do free meals for kids.”
Famoso Pizzeria used to hand out free gelato, but after Labreche saw no increase in sales over the last two years on parade day, he decided to axe the promotion. Insomnia used to sell hot chocolate too, but decided to end that tradition due to overwhelming response on the street.
Making money during the Santa Clause Parad is possible, but managers do have to be careful who they’re targeting.
This is the lesson Labreche learned after handing out hundreds of dollars of free gelato to a crowd who will come in to eat pizza with their families, discounts or not.