Fallout of a shootout

A gangland shootout on Toronto's Yonge street showed merchants how vulnerable their businesses can be

The violent death of 15-year-old Jane Creba, caught in the crossfire of a gangland shootout on Yonge Street in downtown Toronto during last month's Boxing Day sales, did more than shatter residents' collective sense of security. For local merchants, the incident brought home just how vulnerable their businesses can be.

“[Business has] been incredibly slow since it happened,” says Beth Collins, a bartender at Reilly's pub, near where Creba was shot. “Down 50% from what it normally is this time of year.” According to Collins, a bullet shattered one of the pub's windows. That, along with the makeshift memorial that sprang up, has kept people on edge. “They're scared, so they're not coming out,” Collins says. “I can't say I blame them.”

Other merchants have had similar experiences. James Robinson, executive director of the Downtown Yonge Business Improvement Area, says everyone has been affected. “They're business people and they're resilient, but it hasn't been easy,” he says.

The area is currently undergoing a large-scale overhaul, Robinson adds, in an attempt to clean up its allegedly seedy image. He stresses that though the shooting was tragic, such random acts of violence are just that–random. “We're not going to let this stop the positive momentum,” he says.

That's certainly the attitude some of the larger players are taking. PenEquity Management Corp. is developing land on the northeast corner of Yonge and Dundas into a massive 360,000-square-foot entertainment complex called Metropolis. George Stewart, Metropolis's executive vice-president, says the unfortunate incident hasn't changed their outlook.

“While it's a very tragic situation from a social perspective, it didn't impact our commitment to invest in and develop the area. We're still very confident in the site's viability,” Stewart says.

PenEquity is clearly optimistic about the site's retail prospects long term–after all, it is spending $240 million developing it. But the shootout certainly made smaller players keenly aware of how precarious consumer patterns can be.