More than 200,000 marchers are expected for the Pride parade on Sunday and over a million people are projected to participate in related events during the celebrations, which would be a welcome return to pre-pandemic norms for businesses in the epicenter of Toronto’s LGBTQ+ community.

“We really need these sales to climb out of the hole, after two years of limited or no sales,” said Dean Odorico, one of the general managers at Woody’s and Sailor, a performance and dance club on Church Street. “It will take quite a while to make up for lost time.”

Local businesses are still reeling from significant pandemic-related losses over the last two years. According to the city’s annual employment survey, Toronto lost 3,090 businesses between 2020 and 2021.

Odorico said during the first year of the pandemic his business had no income and in the second year it was limited due to capacity restrictions and other COVID-19 regulations.

During those two years the club didn’t have the finances to repair fixtures and other equipment needed for the performance space, which still has to be done, as thousands of dollars were spent on Plexiglas dividers, air purifiers, disinfecting products and other PPE.

“It will probably take years to make up for the losses,” he said.

According to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), 80 per cent of all Toronto businesses aren’t fully recovered, while 29 per cent haven’t even started to recover and worry they never will. The average COVID-19 debt for a Toronto small business is more than $280,000.

Pride celebrations are a large part of the city tourism business, which Andrew Weir, executive vice-president of Destination Toronto, said has been significantly impacted by lockdowns and limited travel. In 2019, Toronto generated $10.3 billion in visitor spending in 2019, but a $7.5-billion loss in 2020 and $5-billion loss in 2021.

And though travel is picking up, it will take a while to recover, with urban destinations lagging, he said.

“During the pandemic people went camping and to resorts wanting to get away from the city,” Weir said. “It’s important that we show people now is the time to come back and festivals like Pride do that.”

Odorico is hopeful this year’s Pride will do that. “Tourism is not even close to pre-pandemic levels, but Pride might be the event to bring them back.”

Sherwin Modeste, executive director of Pride Toronto, said pre-pandemic the month’s celebrations and events took in $1.6 million to $2.7 million in revenue, with similar numbers projected for this year. In 2019, Pride month supported 3,500 temporary jobs and generated $149 billion in tax revenue.

“Pride greatly impacts all of Toronto’s economy,” he said. “But especially LGBTQ+ operated businesses will benefit with the sheer amount of people coming to the city to celebrate.”

For the summer, Pride Toronto hired more than 270 local drag artists, performers, musicians, and DJs for various events, helping those who have been financially hurt the most from the pandemic, Modeste added. There is also a food truck zone to support local eateries and entrepreneurs.

“We’ve been seeing a steady increase in revenue since indoor dining came into effect in the winter,” said Keir MacRae, one of the owners of Hair of the Dog, a pub and restaurant on Church Street, “but in June we definitely see a bump in sales. June is our busiest month.”

This year, Pride feels different, he said. Customers who typically go away during the festival because of the noise and large crowds are eager to engage with it this year.

“We anticipate a busy week, and a return to pre-2020 crowd numbers,” he said. “I don’t think Pride will be more subdued this year because of COVID.”

Gairy Brown, executive director of PRISM Events, is hosting five indoor and two outdoor events over Pride weekend, and has sold 10,000 tickets so far. He expects to sell around 14,000 tickets in total.

“Pride has a huge impact for the hospitality industry,” he said. “Hotels, restaurants, and bars all need this.”

But with COVID-19 cases still cropping up everyday and the arrival of monkeypox in Toronto, Modeste said the festivities must adhere to public health guidelines.

“There is excitement this year, but also worry,” he said. “We’re not fully out of the pandemic yet.”

He said COVID-19 policies are in place with regular cleaning schedules, signage to indicate mask wearing and social distancing, and online events for those who aren’t comfortable being in large crowds. Pride Toronto also extended the festival space to Nathan Phillips Square to ensure the events aren’t as crowded as previous years.

Working with Toronto Public Health and Public Health Ontario, the festival will distribute monkeypox brochures to provide attendees with accurate information, as well as ample signage, Modeste said.

Sarah Cannon, manager at Storm Crow, said sales have come back to full strength. Because the restaurant has the largest patio on Church Street, customers who aren’t comfortable being indoors have the outdoor option.

“There is a lot of anticipation because people haven’t been able to celebrate properly for the last two years,” Cannon said. “I think this will be the best Pride yet.”

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