Faubourg Sainte Catherine – It was an iconic structure in the west end sector of downtown, it was even declared a heritage building by the Quebec Ministry of Culture in 1976, although partially declassified in 2015, thus allowing its owners to dismantle it slowly. The former shopping centre known as the Faubourg Sainte Catherine, situated on that main commercial artery after which is named, between Guy and Saint Mathieu streets was a real jewel. During its heydays in the 1990s you could go there and get the best fruit and vegetables at Plantation, fresh fish at Odessa, a variety of cheese at another store, and if you were hungry, enjoy a meal in any of the many restaurants on the third floor. There was even a bar, and in the basement, five cinemas. That was inside the indoor-market-style of the structure, which benefited from an extensive area with natural light; also facing the street, there were other stores.
I remember writing a piece about the place when its decline started, at that time I interviewed the owner of what was then one of the last shops surviving, an excellent bagel store on the first floor: “it is all dead now,” she told me. Well, it has been a long agony, if you enter the mostly deserted building now, you will only find empty spaces, large portions of the place are boarded up, but there are no signs of whether this is due to some renovations going on or to the site’s final demise.
Today only very few stores survive inside the building, and despite their efforts, they look rather pathetic. I wandered through the third floor, now poorly lit, where restaurants used to flourish, and there is only one Chinese restaurant still functioning. The well-appreciated tailor is still there; I imagine that’s because that store has its own faithful clientele, the same goes for another single shop, a beauty parlour.
A combination of factors seems to have caused this decline, according to former tenants at one point the rents went too high and that put them out of business or simply forced them to leave. That could have been the case with the excellent Thai food restaurant Bangkok which relocated in the gay village. Rental fees going up beyond reasonable limits is usually one big factor in the closing of stores all over the city, the result of greed on the part of big real estate owners.
Increasing competition in the area is another factor that has been mentioned, the installation of supermarkets such as P.A. and Mourelatos, adding to the existing Provigo nearby, might have affected some stores. However, of all those, only P.A. is currently open: Mourelatos was too small and could never be a serious competitor, and Provigo since then has closed. Adonis opened a few years ago when most of the Faubourg stores had already closed, so it was not a factor in its decline. Competition for the restaurants always existed in the area. Therefore it cannot be listed as a decisive contributing factor either.
The fact that Concordia University is now occupying many of the previous installations breeds some life into the hollow structure, but that is only temporary and insufficient to revive what was once a pleasant place to shop or just hang out. A place now on the brink of death because of greed. Ironically, Crofton Moore, the owner of the site (which I contacted but the person in charge of this file didn’t return the call), still lists on its website the virtues of the place as is used to be, not as it is right now in its calamitous state. “Located in the heart of the Concordia University neighbourhood, which contains the densest concentration of residential apartments in the country, Le Faubourg Sainte-Catherine offers an inviting mix of shops, restaurants, and offices all housed in a bright, airy space that’s attractive to the many thousands of residents that call this urban village home.” A description of those good old days that for the Faubourg Sainte Catherine now are over.
Feature image: The western entrance to the Faubourg is now locked up.