Toronto·Video

Toronto Pearson Airport's oldest business, a shoe shiner, is trying to survive

The pandemic has been tough for businesses that rely on travel. At Pearson Interantional Airport - around 35 out of 175 businesses have shut down. The oldest business at Pearson reopened two months ago, and the owner says he's barely hanging on.

About 35 Pearson businesses have shut down since pandemic started, GTAA says

Toronto Pearson Airport's oldest business, a shoe shiner, is trying to survive

7 months ago
Duration 2:36
The pandemic has been tough for businesses that rely on travel. At Pearson Interantional Airport - around 35 out of 175 businesses have shut down. The oldest business at Pearson reopened two months ago, and the owner says he's barely hanging on.

When Mubin Atcha looks at his shoe-shine stands at Toronto's Pearson International Airport, he sees a business that put three of his kids through post-secondary school and nearly 40 years of family history.

He also reflects on the people he's met; from Canadian prime ministers such as Brian Mulroney, Kim Campbell and Jean Chrétien, to celebrities and athletes like Will Smith and Vince Carter.

"It's like being a cab driver or a bartender; people open up to you," he said.

"I could tell you stories all day long."

But running a business that is already something of a dying art, and relies heavily on travel, has been difficult during a pandemic. After shutting down in March 2020, he only reopened again two months ago. He says his business travel clients — which make up 95 per cent of his earnings — just haven't returned.

"I don't think anyone at the airport has come along and told us that things have been good," he said.

"All the managers, the restaurants, everybody has said the same thing: it's been tough."

The Greater Toronto Airports Authority says around 35 of the 175 businesses at Pearson have shut down since the beginning of the pandemic.

Atcha believes it will take at least four years for his business to financially recover, but he's not ready to give up hope. He says if they can break even over the next year, he'll be happy. He's taken on a second job.

"This is our family legacy. It's put food on the table for a lot of people," he said.

"Hopefully, the business can survive, because otherwise, it'll feel like all this hard work was for nothing."

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