Empty store fronts – Just this past August we had written about this problem affecting Montreal: empty storefronts, an issue that since then has finally got the attention of our elected officials. At that time, we quoted Simon Gaudreault, senior director of national research for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business who in a statement to a local TV station had pointed to one of the leading causes of the problem: “Property taxes are quite high in Montreal so that can have an impact when you have leases.” He then added, “When it’s translated into the rent, it can scare off some small businesses.”
Online shopping causing empty store fronts
Of course, high taxation in Montreal is one of the causes of this phenomenon affecting some areas of the city, but it is not the only one. Some retail stores, for example, have been affected by the increase of online shopping, a trend that today is global and therefore doesn’t affect Montreal alone. But other situations are strictly local. Road works in many of the most important commercial arteries, St. Laurent, Ste. Catherine, St. Denis, to name just a few, have had a negative impact since they complicate access to the stores. On other occasions, it has been the implementation of some policies on the part of city or borough officials which have impacted the commercial streets. For some time now the city has introduced measures to promote the use of bicycles. Still, bike paths have often been built at the expense of parking space, therefore discouraging motorists from shopping in certain areas. Recent changes proposed for the area around Peel St., Dorchester Sq., and Metcalfe St. would result in a further reduction of parking space in that downtown section. While there is general support for using more public transit, riding bikes, or simply walking more often, not only to improve one’s own health but also for the sake of the environment, on the other hand, one cannot ignore the fact that being Montreal a city that undergoes a more or less five-months winter season, from November to March, for some people, especially the elderly, moving by car is practically inevitable.
Dealing with Montreal’s empty store fronts
This month the City of Montreal has launched a couple of initiatives to get some feedback from the people. A survey is online and registrations are open to participate in a consultation process. The deadline to add one’s name is December 20, 2019.
For its part, the questions included in the online survey suggest some of the ideas that may be floating within the inner circles of the city bureaucracy. Besides asking about the causes of the empty storefronts as perceived by the respondents, there are some ideas that if implemented could contribute, if not to the solution of the problem, at least to revive some segments of the most affected streets where the closed stores project a gloomy scene. Some of those ideas are to use those empty spaces for temporary artistic or community activities, or even to rent them to non-profit groups in the most affected neighbourhoods.
Regarding the public consultations, the boroughs will inform the dates when they will take place as well as the venues where they will be held. Given the sad state of some areas the sooner some solutions are put into practice, the better.