Empty offices a cause for concern for small businesses downtown

By | May 28, 2020

WINNIPEG — Businesses across Manitoba have started to reopen, but COVID-19 is still causing challenges for some small businesses in Downtown Winnipeg — the main concern is empty office buildings.

Chris Bisignano is the owner of Concourse Sport Ergonomic Physiotherapy, he says appointments are fewer and further between than before.

“Just sheer numbers, there’s just not the same number of people downtown,” said Bisignano.

“Most of my patients come within 5-10 minutes of Portage and Main, most of them walk, yes definitely not as many people.”

Located at 201 Portage Ave., many of the office buildings Bisignano relies on for business are empty.

IG Wealth Management’s head office on Portage Avenue employs over 1,200 people. They’ve yet to determine when they’re employees will be back in the office.

Wawanesa says 98 per cent of its employees have been working from home during the pandemic, and won’t be returning until at least October.

The Downton Winnipeg BIZ said businesses rely heavily on people who work downtown.

“With our primary customer base being downtown workers, and 10s of thousands of people not working downtown, they’re working from home now and that is a real challenge,” said Kate Fenske, CEO of the Downton Winnipeg BIZ.

The Downtown Winnipeg BIZ says normally 70,000 people make their way downtown for work, but that won’t be the case for the near future.

“We know there’s gonna be a lot of people still working from home over the summer, we are hearing anywhere from 10 to 20 per cent might be back,” said Fenske.

“We are seeing a pickup in traffic and increase in pedestrian activity, some people are starting to go back to work but we know it’s not gonna be the numbers that we’re used to” 

Without being able to rely on the same amount of business as they have in the past – experts say many businesses will be faced with a tough decision. 

“If you don’t have enough cash coming in to pay your rent, pay your taxes, pay your utilities, then you really face this trade-off, do I continue to wait and payout, to hope this gets better, or do I sort of shut things up?” said Stefan Dodds, associate professor of Economics at the University of Winnipeg.

Bisignano is looking at ways to adjust and adapt. Only seeing about 30 per cent of business right now – he worries about the future.

“Absolutely, just given the fact that the downtown will change, and the type of work and how people are doing it will change,” said Bisignano. 

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