WARMINGTON: Looking for signs of life in Toronto’s Financial District

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If Hollywood wants a great location for its next zombie movie, look no further than Toronto’s famous PATH system which meanders under downtown’s concrete jungle.

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A ghost movie would work, as well, because this once-thriving system of tunnels with shops offering food, drink, and services have become a ghost town.

You could throw a bowling ball in those corridors and likely not hit anyone. Even the food courts at lunchtime looked near vacant on Monday.

It’s difficult above ground, too, as Andrew Slodowy can attest.

For 30 years, he has set up outside the Toronto Stock Exchange on King St., selling hot dogs to the thousands of people who worked in the towers above him.

He may not be able to do that much longer.

“I am thinking about retiring,” he said. “I paid to renew my licence again, but there’s not a lot of customers anymore.”

Andrew Slodowy at his hot dog cart on King St. W. in Toronto on Oct. 4, 2021. (Joe Warmington/Toronto Sun)
Andrew Slodowy at his hot dog cart on King St. W. in Toronto on Oct. 4, 2021. (Joe Warmington/Toronto Sun)

For three decades, he had all the customers a small business guy could ask for.

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“Now it’s about a dozen hot dogs a day,” he said.

Like everybody else in the financial district, he’s patiently waiting for the pandemic to end and for things to get back to normal. It never seems to happen. Will it ever?

“That is an open question,” said financial commentator Lou Schizas.

“That’s a conversation that business and employees are having,” he added. “They are looking at each other and asking, ‘Do we want the expense of operating in expensive real estate or to drag ourselves down to an office tower five times a week when you can be just as productive at home?’”

The longer these temporary measures go on, the more it just may become permanent.

“Things change in business,” noted Schizas.

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If banks and other businesses in the financial sector decide to abandon their downtown towers, those skyscrapers could be “re-purposed” to become “residential spaces or even used as indoor garden growing towers” since “they are solid buildings good for another 100 years with good plumbing,” said Schizas.

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But will Andrew and his hot dog cart be able to stay? Or the small businesses in the PATH system?

“They are used to rivers of people flowing out of those towers and make their living on volume,” said Schizas. “If there are no people working in the towers, there’s no volume.”

Personally, I think rather than throwing away Toronto’s financial and business districts, it would be better for political and medical leaders to accept that they can’t control coronaviruses.

Instead of trying to eliminate their spread, we need to learn to live with them.

They are doing this with the pro sports teams here in Toronto and in the United States, and they could do the same with the financial sector.

And there was a beacon of hope Monday in the underground PATH, near St. Andrews subway station. The popular Sam James Coffee Bar opened its doors for the first time in 19 months. Hopefully, it’s just the beginning.

“It does feel good to be back and to see our customers again,” said Darren Lam. “It was strange because it almost felt like we never left.”

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Part of that is because he and co-worker Naksuka Hakata worked in Sam James’ other locations. Part of their excitement was seeing some of their friends again.

But less of them. A lot less.

There were so few that most of the other businesses below 150 King St. W. have yet to open their doors again.

If they don’t, sections of the PATH would be perfect to shoot another Blues Brothers movie — complete with mall car chases and vehicles crashing into empty stores.

jwarmington@postmedia.com

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