'Freedom Convoy' cost downtown Ottawa millions per day, experts estimate
Estimates range from $44 million to $200 million in sales, wage losses
Experts estimate businesses in Ottawa's downtown core lost millions each day in sales and wages during the so-called Freedom Convoy protest, which caused nearly a month of partial and complete closures of businesses.
Retail analysts say total economic damages may range from about $44 million up to $200 million for the 23 days trucks and protesters occupied Centretown streets — from about Jan. 29 until Feb. 20 when police finally moved in to remove them.
"There is no question that the pandemic has impacted the retail industry in a very severe way," said Shore-Tanner & Associates director of market research Barry Nabatian, prefacing the convoy hurt an already struggling downtown.
When protesters arrived, the area became largely closed off and people were fearful of going there, he added.
"As a result, whether a store was open or not, people didn't go to shop and even those who did open, they did hardly any business."
Nabatian, a decades-long retail analyst who's conducted several studies and collected years of sales data from downtown businesses, estimates businesses collectively lost about $900,000 per day, while Rideau Centre shops lost about $2.3 million a day — altogether around a $73 million loss of revenue in the 23 days.
He calls these conservative estimates focused on sales losses, and don't include other costs like rent, insurance, taxes and employee wage support.
Despite pandemic restrictions loosening, downtown businesses are still struggling, he said.
"It's really unfortunate," Nabatian said. "People are [still] not coming downtown."
Lawsuit estimates financial damage
Meanwhile, the proposed class-action lawsuit looking to compensate downtown residents and businesses hired an expert to analyze economic damages.
Larry Andrade, a Deloitte LLP partner who calculated the damages suffered by businesses and employees during the occupation period, used tools like real-time payment data (looking at credit card payment data before and after the protests), as well as people and vehicular traffic data.
His preliminary estimate, which used publicly available income-based GDP information for Ottawa as a starting point, estimates a range of possible losses.
Andrade estimates businesses within the class-action's "occupation zone" — which includes areas south of Wellington Street to Somerset Street, east of Bronson Avenue to just past Nelson Street, and parts of the ByWard Market — lost between $44,498,615 and $61,316,356.
Including employees' wage losses, the total economic impact to these groups are estimated to be between $150,175,831 and $206,933,061, according to the affidavit.
Andrade, who declined an interview because the matter is before the court, says in his affidavit he has "no interest, financial or otherwise, in the outcome of the litigation," and says the estimates are his opinion as an independent, expert witness.
"It is pretty significant," said Paul Champ, the lawyer heading the class-action on behalf of residents, businesses and workers of the downtown area.
We won't see those sales again.- Martin Wright, Magpie Jewellery
He said through researching this, his team learned some businesses were saying the occupation was "far worse than COVID restrictions."
"Through COVID restrictions, they could at least do takeout and other ways they could carry on business," Champ said. "During the convoy occupation, for most businesses in the downtown core … they were unable to transact businesses at all so it was a total loss."
Business 'very slow' for some, not for others
Magpie Jewellery's Martin Wright says his Rideau Centre location experienced "substantial" losses after it was shut down completely for more than three weeks.
"It's also Valentines Day for us, and that's a big deal," Wright said. "We won't see those sales again."
He said it's difficult to quantify what the store lost, but is grateful for his customers who shopped online. Wright says he feels for fellow shops and food-court restaurants who weren't as lucky and weren't able to do takeout or turn online.
"It's very slow. The mall is very slow," he said, describing what it's been like since reopening.
Frank Olszynko, owner of Lois 'N' Frima's Ice Cream in the ByWard Market, says he also feels for fellow businesses in the area, especially those hit hard by protest-related disruptions.
The shop has gone through recessions and other difficult times during the past 40 years, but contrary to most downtown retailers, Olszynko said his store did relatively well for a pandemic winter.
A takeout joint at a busy street corner, Olszynko says his decision to stay open during the protest — a bittersweet decision as he says he's "anti-convoy" — helped garner more ice cream sales than the shop would on an average February.
"There have been no tourists in the last couple of years which is detrimental to the business," he said. "But we're sort of … doing well. I can't lie."