‘It’s a mess’: Scarborough businesses struggling as Eglinton LRT construction drags on

There’s a wire construction fence blocking a portion of Paul Lenneard’s lot, one of his entrances to the street is closed, and there are black and orange pylons all along the front of his Ford dealership.

This is likely going to be his new reality for a few more years as construction of the Eglinton Crosstown light rail line is ramping up along Scarborough’s Golden Mile.

“[Construction crews] could be bringing in equipment, they could be blocking your view for three or four hours,” said Lenneard, owner of Donway Ford.

“It’s a mess. It’s hard to even tell you’re open at times.”

Donway Ford has been operating on Eglinton Avenue East for decades. Lenneard knew the building of the Eglinton Crosstown was going to make running his dealership a bit more challenging, but he didn’t think the impact was going to be so significant.

People ‘avoiding Eglinton’

“There’s less people going up and down Eglinton; they’re avoiding it,” said Leanneard.

He and a few other dealerships in the area took out a newspaper ad, hoping it will attract customers.

Metrolinx — the regional transit agency responsible for building the 25-station LRT line stretching from Kennedy Station to Mount Dennis —  says it knows businesses “may have already been living through difficult times.”

The agency says it’s working to ease the disruption, including putting up signs to let customers know the stores are open for business.

But Leanneard says the signs are too small and difficult for drivers to spot.

Coun. Gary Crawford knows many stores in his ward will be affected by LRT construction and will be meeting with owners in the coming weeks.

“We’re looking at promoting, marketing and getting people to understand that the businesses are still open,” said Crawford.

“We do have in this year’s budget $1 million of marketing and digital programming set aside to assist the businesses.”

Meanwhile, businesses on the west side of Eglinton Avenue know the Crosstown growing pains all too well.

‘This has destroyed businesses’

Metrolinx collaborated with local BIAs and the city to launch Experience Eglinton, a campaign to get people to shop along the road while the LRT is being built.

But after years of construction, many of the shops near Oakwood Avenue have closed, and others like Jason McDonald are holding on by a thread.

“It didn’t work,” said McDonald, when asked about Experience Eglinton.

“We used to get walk-ins, now we don’t get any foot traffic. People think we’re closed.”

There’s a fence in front of McDonald’s Casual Hair Salon and often heavy equipment is parked alongside, making it nearly impossible to see inside the shop. The sidewalk also ends about a metre from the salon’s door. That’s because there’s a barricade up surrounding the construction site that will eventually house Oakwood Station.

McDonald says his employees have left and he now works long hours just to make ends meet, and he worries Metrolinx and the city don’t realize how much he’s suffering.

“They’re telling me I’m lucky, it could be worse, there’s a pathway to my place,” said McDonald. “But if someone even starts to walk here, Metrolinx workers will tell them it’s a dead end and to go around.

“This has destroyed businesses and has impacted lives,” said McDonald.

The city admits that there have been bumps in the road and that it has some new ideas to help businesses in the east end.

As for Lenneard, he knows the Eglinton Crosstown will eventually bring more business to the Golden Mile.

He just hopes his dealership can ride it out until then.

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