‘A resurgence’: Whyte Avenue business vacancy rate drops to average levels after pandemic closures

After the pandemic forced businesses to pivot or pushed some to close their doors for good, the Whyte Avenue and Old Strathcona area of Edmonton is making a comeback.

Eleven new businesses have opened up in the district so far this year. According to the area’s business association, that is more than all the businesses that closed since the beginning of the pandemic.

As the weather continues to improve and patio season begins, Kris Armitage, Old Strathcona Business Association (OSBA) chair, expects foot traffic in the area to further increase and enable an almost seamless recovery.

“Whyte Avenue never went anywhere,” Armitage said. “It’s always been here, and it’s always going to be here. We just have more people coming back to see us now, and we’re really excited about that.”

“Everybody in 2020 experienced a bit of a downturn, a bit of a lull because of the pandemic,” he added. “But we’ve definitely seen a resurgence.”

Last year, the area saw the same number of businesses open as those that closed, Armitage said. Now, the vacancy rate has dropped back to average levels.

“We’ve definitely seen an uptick in new businesses,” he said. “This is the place people want to be. This is a destination area for all of Edmonton.”

Armitage says 60 outdoor dining areas will be opening in the coming weeks.

While the expanded sidewalks that were in place the past couple of summers will not be making a comeback, Armitage said the OSBA is working with the city to find ways to make the area more pedestrian-friendly.

“We’re very supportive of expanded sidewalks,” he told CTV News Edmonton. “We are definitely trying to work with the city to bring as much of that back as possible, but it’s not going to be exactly the same thing that we’ve had in previous years, and that’s only due to budgetary concerns.”

‘TWO HARD YEARS’

After two years of delays and dealing with supply chain issues, a new coffeehouse has taken over the iconic 104 Street and Whyte Avenue corner.

Pact Coffee opened about a month ago and has been packed ever since, says Rylee Los, cafe supervisor.

“It’s really nice to see all the foot traffic, people walking in, even people peeking in the windows when they walk by,” Los said. “We’re feeling good about it so far.”

“It’s been picking up, getting busier each day, and with the loss of two coffee shops on the corner right across from us, I think people were really itching to have a new coffee spot,” she added.

The space has been completely renovated with an open and bright concept. The cafe also features freshly baked gluten-free and vegan doughnuts and baked goods.

“We really want to be a place where people can come and socialize are two hard years,” Los added.

Just a block west, a new activity-based club opened its doors two weeks ago to massive fanfare.

Rally Social Room and Bar features ping-pong tables, shuffleboard, and a dance floor complete with a five-foot disco ball.

“Rally is a very fun interactive activity-based bar that’s soon to blow the doors off an iconic Whyte Avenue,” said partner Chad Murphy.

“Everything for us needs to be about sociability,” he added. “Coming out of COVID we really want people to recharge and reengage each other, high-five, hug, and dance. That’s what’s really going to make our concept fly.” 

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Joe Scarpelli

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