Gateway stores in the TTC and the PATH were hit hardest during the shift to work from home.
CEO and president, Gateway Newstands: Toronto
How would you characterize the impact the pandemic has had on your stores? Devastating. We have the exclusive newsstand/convenience store contract with the TTC. And so, a third of our stores are with the TTC, a third in office towers and a third in malls. We also have about 20 stores in the PATH (Toronto’s Downtown Pedestrian Walkway). Those in the malls have fared best because they were able to open sometimes. Those in the TTC and the PATH are worse off. They would open sometimes to only make $50 a day. Some of them are still closed because there’s just no traffic.
How did they manage to get by financially? Many stores are down in sales by 60% to 90%, which is dramatic. And so many owner-operators have had to take a second job. There has been some government support around rent, but not full.
How about in terms of the spirit of your franchisees? I have been so impressed by their positive attitude! We have never had a franchisee complain about the situation. Obviously, the pandemic has been terrible, but they are saying, “We know we're going to get through it.”
That must be galvanizing to hear. It’s so inspiring. Our corporate team has decreased to six, having used to be over 20. As a franchisor, we’re doing all we can to support our owner-operators, and are working with the landlords to help them get by.
What has the support been like from the landlords? Our largest, the TTC, has been incredibly gracious. All of them have been. We just decided we were going to communicate with landlords all the way through – no hiding, no pretending that we're not paying the rent. Obviously, they can’t just never charge us rent, but they’ve been very supportive.
How did franchisees continue to be there for customers? I would visit stores and see no customers, but our franchisees were there with full inventory. I did interviews with our franchisees about midway through the pandemic and one said, “I don't want customers to come by and ever see my store closed because they might think I'm not going to be here when they finally come back.” It’s been heartwarming to see how much they care about their business.
How is everyone feeling now with restrictions having lifted? We hear the hope. Although there are far fewer of us, my team and I are hoping that we can see them through and get their business back to what it was before.
What would you like to see from downtown revitalization efforts? We're hopeful that these new initiatives remind people of the breadth of small businesses in Toronto. And we want to make certain we're taking advantage to remind people in the downtown that that franchisee – that person in a Gateway at the subway stop you see all the time – is a small business owner. And for people to know this is their livelihood, and purchasing a candy bar, a bottle of water, anything in the store, matters a lot.