TIFF has downsized its film slate to about 50 and the bulk of the action will be online. (File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

TIFF has downsized its film slate to about 50 and the bulk of the action will be online. (File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Toronto businesses brace for little or no business from COVID-era TIFF

Film festival downsized to about 50 films

TORONTO — When the first weeks of September roll around, nearly every inch of Yvonne Yang’s Pistil Flowers shops is typically covered in orders for the Toronto International Film Festival.

Hotels want fresh blooms to greet high-profile guests; production companies and sponsors like to send congratulatory florals to stars of big films; and event planners and restaurants need a touch of nature to brighten up their spaces for everyone flocking to town.

“September’s generally busy because everyone’s back to work and things are happening and then TIFF just drops and it’s usually a lot of last-minute ordering,” said Yang.

“Usually you have to make it work.”

Yang’s not expecting that this year. TIFF has downsized its slate from the usual 200-plus films to about 50, and while it will offer some in-person screenings and drive-ins, the bulk of the action will be online because Hollywood is staying home and COVID-19 is still lurking.

That means no red carpets or crowds packing King Street West, making a tough year even tougher for hotels, restaurants, party venues, caterers, limo services, entertainment companies and more.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses says only 26 per cent of small businesses are making normal sales and depending on how recovery from the pandemic goes, as many as 218,000 or 19 per cent of small businesses in the country could close.

Pistil Flowers has been surviving on online orders, but Yang has noticed people have pared back.

“Not having the typical wedding season, not having the corporate events season, not having TIFF is a huge blow to our revenue,” she said.

“Our high seasons have been cut in half at least.”

A 2013 study from TIFF and research firm TNS Canada Ltd. said the celebration of film delivers at least $189 million in annual economic activity to businesses across the city like Yang’s and the Soho Hotel and Residences, a short walk from the TIFF Bell Lightbox and Princess of Wales Theatre.

“It’s the busiest time of year,” said general manager David Kelley.

“It’s when you can count on your average rate to virtually double in size and because people come for a minimum five days — it is a strong piece of business. Some people even stay the whole time, the 10 or 11 days…Obviously that is not going to happen this year.”

The hotel spent much of last year busy on a multimillion-dollar renovation that freshened up its 89 rooms, pool, fitness centre and corridors.

Kelley had envisioned capitalizing on the renovations during TIFF, but now rooms sit empty and ”everything is 30 per cent of what it once was.”

Ink Entertainment kingpin Charles Khabouth is also lamenting a TIFF unlike any other.

While Khabouth will host TIFF events at his CityView Drive-In at the base of Polson Street, his dozens of clubs, restaurants, event spaces and his luxury Bisha hotel will hardly be awash in their usual excitement.

The venues are typically a magnet for celebrities, splashy parties and crowds of paparazzi come September, but now Khabouth says, “TIFF is like a distant memory. There’s nothing.”

“It’s like a trampoline that launches us like a rocket into the season. And this year — nothing,” he said.

He’s already had to close one venue over a rent tussle with a landlord and get inventive by turning his Cabana Poolbar into a massive, socially-distanced restaurant, but he worries about the smaller businesses, which rely on warm months and the festival to carry them through the year.

“I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging, but if I can’t make it, nobody can,” he said.

Just as concerned as Khabouth is Dan Gunam, who runs fast-casual food spot Calii Love and the Love Child Social House club.

When the pandemic began ravaging Canada in March, he watched sales plummet. The businesses are now beginning to recover, but a COVID-era TIFF isn’t making things easy.

The festival usually drums up plenty of business for Gunam because Love Child Social House hosts glitzy parties and Calii Love is often home to a celebrity photography studio and lounge that have lured in George Clooney and Nicole Kidman.

“For 10 days, we do a lot of parties and this year it’s zero,” said Gunam. ”That’s a pretty big drop.”

His venues will also be going without celebrity shoutouts that bolster business all year round.

One year, for example, Hugh Jackman cited Calii Love on Twitter, when a barista there handed him a latte topped with a foam portrait of the star during TIFF, driving fans to the spot long after he was gone.

Gunam’s got his fingers crossed that TIFF will be back to its old self next year — a hope some are already making plans around.

Kelley at the Soho says he’s figuring out how to best reach out to loyal customers in the coming months about next year because he refuses to believe the festival will be largely digital for long.

“It’s just not going to happen,” he said. “People want to see movies on screens. They want to see the celebrities and the various speeches and… all the things about the movies people love.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 3, 2020.

Entertainment

Just Posted

(Advocate file photo)
Pastor, candidate under restraining order arrested for allegedly breaking COVID laws

CALGARY — A Calgary mayoral candidate who is under a restraining order… Continue reading

Pro-Palestinian protesters run from police following a demonstration in Montreal, Sunday, May 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Tensions flare at Israel-Palestinian demonstrations in Montreal, Toronto

Tensions ran high at competing demonstrations over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in both… Continue reading

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, then-vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, participates in a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. An expert in military affairs says the sudden departure of the  general in charge of Canada's vaccine rollout is unlikely to have any impact on the high-profile program. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Canada to get 4.5M vaccine doses as questions swirl around immunization effort

OTTAWA — Canada is set to receive a large infusion of COVID-19… Continue reading

Israelis take cover as a siren sounds a warning of incoming rockets fired from the Gaza Strip, in Ashkelon, southern Israel, Sunday, May 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Heidi Levine)
Israeli strikes hit Gaza tunnels as diplomats work for truce

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — The Israeli military unleashed a wave… Continue reading

John Guise is seen at 4 weeks and one day after his birth, weighing two pounds and three ounces, in hospital in Hamilton, Ont., in an Aug. 1 1979, handout photo. Canadian researchers who've tracked a group of men who were born prematurely at a weight of less than one kilogram are finding they tend to age more quickly than male babies who aren't born prematurely. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-John Guise, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Boys born prematurely and very small age faster as men, study suggests

Canadian researchers who tracked a group of men who were born prematurely… Continue reading

Calgary Flames players celebrate the team's overtime win against the Vancouver Canucks during an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, May 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Lindholm OT winner gives Flames 6-5 win over Canucks despite blowing four-goal lead

VANCOUVER — In a game with little to play for besides pride,… Continue reading

In this photo taken on May 13, 2021, Russia's performer, Manizha, smiles during an interview after rehearsing at the Eurovision Song Contest at Ahoy arena in Rotterdam, Netherlands. For many, the stage and global television audience of millions is a chance to express messages of inclusion, strength and positivity. Manizha has a message of strength for women in her song whose lyrics include the lines: "Every Russian Woman. Needs to know. You're strong enough to bounce against the wall." (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
Eurovision Song Contest returns despite coronavirus pandemic

ROTTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) — Pounding beats? Check. Uplifting lyrics? Check. Huge, backlit… Continue reading

Serena Williams of the United States returns the ball to Italy's Lisa Pigato during their match at the Emilia Romagna Open tennis tournament, in Parma, Monday, May 17, 2021. Serena Williams earned her first victory in more than three months by beating 17-year-old qualifier Lisa Pigato 6-3, 6-2 in the first round of the Emilia-Romagna Open. Williams accepted a wild-card invitation for the Parma tournament after losing her opening match at the Italian Open last week. (AP Photo/Marco Vasini)
Serena Williams posts 1st victory in more than 3 months

PARMA, Italy (AP) — Serena Williams earned her first victory in more… Continue reading

In this Oct. 21, 2014 file photo, people pass an AT&T store in New York's Times Square. AT&T will combine its media operations that include CNN HBO, TNT and TBS in a $43 billion deal with Discovery, the owner of lifestyle networks including the Food Network and HGTV. The deal announced Monday, May 17, 2021, would create a separate media company as households increasingly abandon cable and satellite TV, looking instead at Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Facebook, TikTok and YouTube. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
AT&T, Discovery join media brands as cord-cutting encroaches

NEW YORK (AP) — AT&T will combine its massive media operations that… Continue reading

The Minnesota Wild celebrate their overtime victory over the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of a first-round NHL hockey playoff series Sunday, May 16, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)
Eriksson Ek’s OT goal lifts Wild past Vegas 1-0

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Joel Eriksson Ek’s goal at 3:20 of overtime… Continue reading

Toronto Blue Jays' Lourdes Gurriel Jr., celebrates after hitting a double against the Philadelphia Phillies during the third inning of a baseball game Sunday, May 16, 2021, in Dunedin, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)
Girardi, Segura have confrontation as Phils lose to Jays

Blue Jays 10 Phillies 8 DUNEDIN, Fla. (AP) — The injury-depleted Philadelphia… Continue reading

New York Islanders' Kyle Palmieri (21) returns to the bench after scoring during the first period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh, Sunday, May 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Palmieri’s OT winner lifts Isles by Penguins 4-3 in Game 1

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The New York Islanders brought Kyle Palmieri home at… Continue reading

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions hearing to examine an update from Federal officials on efforts to combat COVID-19, Tuesday, May 11, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool via AP)
Fauci says pandemic exposed ‘undeniable effects of racism’

ATLANTA (AP) — The immunologist who leads the COVID-19 response in the… Continue reading

Most Read