Several Toronto small business owners struggling as sinkhole-related road closure sets in

As so many Greater Toronto Area small business operators continue to climb out of the financial hole caused by COVID-19, it’s a sinkhole that’s got many on a section of Dundas Street West worried.

It was a week before the end of November when a massive void was detected on the street between Brock and Sheridan avenues, prompting the shutdown of the road that’s the length of a city block.

“Without any notice or anything we just noticed the roads were closed off and I actually had tape going across the front of my store blocking off the sidewalk,” Benito Tavares, the owner of Tavares Oriental Inc. — a business with a focus on paint and handmade rugs, recalled during an interview with CityNews on Saturday.

“Here we go again, can’t catch a break. You know two years of COVID and we’re thinking that this is going to be our big rebound year and then this happens. We’re just like, ‘You know why me?’”

Tavares, like others, has a lot riding on the rest of this month heading into the beginning of 2023.

“This is our busiest time of year. We do about 35 to 40 per cent of our annual income during this time of year. This is the last thing we needed,” he said.

“(I am) very concerned because coming into January, February months it’s our very quiet time of year, so if we’re not hitting our targets at this time of year that’s just going to make the January through March months that much more difficult.”

At Piñata Tacos where a sign outside bills it as the ‘World Cup of tacos,’ machinery sat parked out front.

“Right now it’s Saturday afternoon we should have been fully booked, busy,” manager Adrian Alvarez said.

However, inside, the business was half full when CityNews visited with a few others grabbing takeout.

“We’re a bit worried because of Christmas time and stuff because of the construction that will reduce our income by a good 30 per cent. I’m a numbers guy, so I’ve been running that so it’s concerning,” he said.

The business opened in June after Alvarez said they found success by going mobile to events. Getting the business opened, he said, was also tough as he had to wait for two months in order for the City of Toronto to come through with the licences he needed to operate.

The sinkhole on Dundas Street West has impacted the delivery side of the business.

“It’s super hard to get parking. That’s one of the things that we’ve asked the City they should allow us to have parking,” Alvarez said, adding there have been select instances where cars have been towed nearby the affected stretch.

“All the Uber drivers, all the apps and the suppliers have trouble because they need to ask for the police officer in the street to let them through.”

The mess on this portion of the street west of downtown Toronto was detected by crews dispatched to fix a sewer connection. City of Toronto staff said they were doing ‘micro-tunneling’ and found a part of the 130-plus-year-old clay sewer pipe missing.

“We came across this very large void underneath the TTC tracks. So this is about 20 by 20 and about three or four feet deep,” Bill Shea, the City of Toronto’s director of water distribution and collection, said, noting crews tried to fix the issue in a way that wouldn’t result in tearing up the road.

“The soil was falling into the sewer and being washed away over time and that created this very large void … The road had stayed in place and there was no hole at the surface.”

When asked if the issue could have been anticipated, Shea called it “emergency” work.

“The only way to prevent something like this is to upgrade the sewers … and we do that,” he said.

“The City spends a billion dollars a year on capital upgrades, but obviously we can’t get to everything. We’ve got a lot of old infrastructure and obviously this is on a list to be repaired or to be replaced,” said Shea.

“With 11,000 kilometres of sewer in the city, you’re going to have sewer problems and so there’s no way to avoid issues with the sewers or the watermains or anything else.”

Shea said this type of issue could, in theory, happen again because the aging sewer along the street is buried under TTC streetcar tracks — a practice that isn’t done anymore.

“It’s very fortunate something worse didn’t happen. It’s not unusual for those sewers though to last more than 100 years. It’s amazing,” he said.

“The rest of that pipe actually was actually in pretty good shape because we just camera-ed it.”

“Having a big void under the TTC tracks is obviously scary and again that’s why we don’t do this anymore, that’s 100 years ago so we don’t want that – that can cause all kinds of problems – and we’re just fortunate none of that broke as the TTC or traffic went over it and we discovered it in time to get that fixed.”

Newly elected Coun. Alejandra Bravo was on Dundas Street West surveying the damage Saturday afternoon after visiting the area shortly after the sinkhole developed. She said City of Toronto staff are looking at potential ways to provide help to affected businesses, but nothing firm was in place as of the weekend.

“We’re going to use all the powers at the City to do that in the coming weeks,” Bravo said.

“People want support. Small business owners here want to send a message they’re open for business, it’s the perfect time of year to Dundas West, do your holiday shopping, pop in somewhere for a bite and this year’s shopping can mean so much more when we support these businesses.”

She said the City needs to get additional funding to help keep up with decaying infrastructure.

“There were horses on this road when [the sewer] was built. The infrastructure deficit in this city is massive. It’s a result of downloading by the provincial government onto the city for so many things that our property taxes shouldn’t necessarily be paying for,” Bravo said, adding governments need to be “making sure the economic engine of the country is functional.”

CityNews previously reported construction could wrap up by mid-December, but the latest timeline has the project finishing as early as the end of December. However, municipal officials said January will likely be the finish time.

It’s being done in two phases: The first on reconstructing the sewer and the road, and the second building the TTC tracks and reinstalling overhead electrical lines.

Meanwhile, Tavares and Alvarez hope people in Toronto will show their support in the coming weeks.

“We’re hoping that with this exposure that we’re bringing out here that will really basically really help bring people back into the neighbourhood,” Tavares said.

“We’re open, great ambiance, good drinks, people always have a good time, everybody’s friendly here,” Alvarez added.

This content was originally published here.