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Toronto’s Pride Festival evolves into economic powerhouse

Cafe California manager Vince Moneva, pictured Saturday outside the restaurant on Toronto’s Church Street.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

On the day before Toronto's annual Pride Festival, Cafe California manager Vince Moneva sat in his restaurant, talking excitedly about what the event means to his business.

The festival is a big draw for the downtown area annually, and this year promises to be significantly bigger as Toronto hosts WorldPride, expecting a 66-per-cent increase in attendance.

The Pride Festival, which began Friday night and runs through to next Sunday, with the annual parade, means a lot to the bottom line of independent businesses such as Cafe California.

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"Pride Week represents our profit for the year," said Mr. Moneva, who has managed the establishment with his wife Leticia since 1988, with as many sales during the week as in a busy month.

"If it wasn't for Pride, we wouldn't be able to survive."

Pride's economic weight has grown with its popularity, now a 10-day festival expected to draw nearly 2 million visitors, with concerts from Melissa Etheridge, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Tegan and Sara, and sponsors like Toronto-Dominion Bank, Air Canada, and Telus Corp.

Pride Toronto, the non-profit organizer of the festival, estimates that the 2013 economic impact was $286-million, and that this year will be significantly bigger.

"It's a huge event economically," said Sean Hillier, co-chair for Pride Toronto, citing a study commissioned from market researcher Research House that indicates the festival created 3,470 jobs and generated $61-million in tax revenue in 2013.

David Roberts, a lecturer at the University of Toronto who teaches a course on cities and mega-events, agreed the festival is an economic powerhouse, though suggested the estimates were high.

He also argued the festival means a lot for the city's image. "It shows they can host large events," he said in an interview. "It fits Toronto's brand image as a tolerant and diverse city."

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Andrew Weir, vice-president for Tourism Toronto, said the growth of Pride is something to be excited about,

"One of the most encouraging things about Pride is how it stretches across the city," he said. "It's not just a parade."

Scott Dagostino, the manager of Glad Day Bookshop, described Pride as "our Christmas," adding the store makes three times as many sales during the event. For Glad Day, it's a welcome boost.

"This year has been kind of bad," he said of the struggling bookselling industry. "To be honest, Pride kind of rescues us."

While Pride Week is not an economic cure-all for businesses in the area, there is some reliance on the festival's economic impact to fend off the rapidly rising rents that have closed a number of shops.

It makes the steady growth of Pride that much more important for the businesses that depend on it.

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While Pride can't always be expected to have the resources of World Pride, there's pressure to deliver, Mr. Weir said.

"We have to make sure that [World Pride] sets a new floor, that we keep some of the equity we've built up in the festival. We have to make sure it's always World Pride here."

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