Rebounding after a tough two-year stretch has proven to be an uphill battle for East York entertainment establishments.
It’s a problem felt right across the province, as shown in a study launched in 2020 by the Ontario Arts Council, in partnership with the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts. The COVID-19 Audience Outlook Monitor tracked audience attitudes about attending arts and cultural events during and after the pandemic.
It found 11 per cent of 5,654 responses to the survey were from pre-COVID attendees who are not expecting to return to performances until February 2023 or later.
Reasons given for the reluctance to return include “Hard to get back into the habit of attending concerts” and “I would prefer if masks were still in use especially for indoor venues.”
East York entertainment establishments are echoing what the study found.
Kids Fun Town owner Daniel Moradhaseli said keeping his 3,000-square-foot indoor playground open has been challenging with inflation driving up costs.
“The pandemic has changed everything,” Moradhaseli said. “Staying open [has been] a bit tough. We [went through] all our money, even with the government’s help, and we are seeing changes with our customers as well. For example, people don’t book three or four months early anymore, and they want to spend less than even before the pandemic.”
To meet the requests of patrons paying less for parties, Moradhaseli and his team try to purchase party items in bulk, while continuing to rely on working harder and smarter.
“We have to do those two things in order to stay open,” Moradhaseli said. “I try to negotiate where I can, and I find places to buy in bulk besides Costco because they are the leaders in inflation. Items that used to be $79.99 before the pandemic are now over $100.”
Sometimes during the week the staff have late nights, often working overtime, he said.
“I have also negotiated prices because my customers are in the same situation as me,” Moradhaseli said. “Everywhere they go, [prices] are increased.”
Something for adults too
According to the Canadian Association for the Performing Arts, about six per cent of arts, recreation and information businesses in Canada reported normal or better revenues than usual during Nov. 2022.
Ralph MacLeod, owner of The Social Capital (SoCap Comedy), is offering affordable entertainment through low ticket prices for shows and classes, along with virtual improv theatre classes — to help people reconnect with others and themselves at discounted prices.
Understanding that it might not always make him the best business man, MacLeod puts an emphasis on the importance of offering affordable classes and shows to SoCap Comedy patrons.
“My goal is just to bring improv to life, and to bring a sense of playfulness, fun, overcoming self-consciousness, especially for adults, to the world,” MacLeod said. “Especially now when everybody is overcome with anxiety, and depression, and coming out of a pandemic where people are still find thing their way, it’s incredibly important to get back to just bonding with other human beings.”
A program called Improv for New Friends leverages improv, not to be a performer or comedian, but to “learn how to communicate, how to really listen to people, and how to overcome self-consciousness,” he said.
For the past seven months, Todmorden Mills and the Papermill Gallery has offered free 60-minute guided tours, helping patrons stay within their budget, while providing an enriching experience.
Museum administrator and playwright Lisa Randall shared the significance of historic sites such as these, while explaining how they keep costs low for the public.
“It’s a hidden gem,” Randall said. “There is so much to offer on this site that everyone can relate to.”
Todmorden also offers spaces for theatre companies and art groups to rent, as well as a theatre that can be rented as well. That revenue can help offset the costs of the daily tours, Randall said.
With days of operations running Wednesdays to Sundays, patrons can expect to find plenty of free parking and a large park area used for both exhibits and picnics.
But two years after COVID-19, Todmorden Mills is still experiencing post-pandemic challenges.
“Since the Toronto history museums are part of public service, we have been quite understaffed because the [city’s] priorities have been focused around health and safety.” Randall said.
“Another challenge we face is that a lot of people don’t know about us,” she said. “Many people who show up for a tour are on the site for the first time that day, so, another challenge is reaching people who don’t know we are here, while also reaching folks who don’t see themselves in a museum. Ultimately, people are delighted to find us.”
With the holiday season quickly approaching, here are a handful of upcoming events in or near the east end to enjoy for free or for a small charge:
- Union Winter: Enjoy free skate rentals and free skating on Front Street at Toronto’s Union Station during the holiday season until Jan. 29.
- Evergreen Brickworks: The Brickworks on Bayview Avenue have plenty of holiday events throughout December, including the snowy Children’s Garden during Weekend Nature Play from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays and free public skating in December and January.
- Distillery Winter Village: The Distillery area with its historic district shops, restaurants and cafés is free from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day, though tickets ($11) are required Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays after 4 p.m. and Dec. 27–31 after 4 p.m. Kids 9 and under are always free.
- Red Sandcastle Theatre: Tickets for shows and events at the Queen Street East theatre start at $16.95.