The lockdown of restaurants, clubs and bars has not only torn the heart out of Montreal’s famed joie-de-vivre, but has put an estimated 300,000 people out of work and may cause permanent closures of some 30% of those establishments. Hundreds of owners intend to do something about it in a symbolic mass opening this Saturday May 8th between noon and two. Doors will be open in all major entertainment areas including Peel, Crescent, Laurier, Bernard, St-Denis, and Griffintown, amongst others.
Alain Creton, founder and owner of Peel St.’s fabled Chez Alexandre, told The Suburban in an exclusive interview that he has helped organize this city-wide effort because there has to be a manifestation of the urgency of the situation. “All our establishments are becoming like museums. People need them for human contact. They are important for our socialization. And for our mental health. People need human contact.”
And that “museum” theme will be running through the city-wide Saturday event. Though no food or beverages will be served — and masking and social distance rules will be enforced — there will be owners and staff who will greet visitors and take them through their establishments the way a guide would through a museum. They will remind visitors of what the etiquette and joys of Café Society were all about. As one restaurateur on St-Denis said, “Saturday is an attempt to keep our establishments from truly becoming museums.”
This is not the first demonstration by the industry, but it is certainly the most creative. The situation is turning quite grim for a sector that is the fourth largest employer in the province. Recently, Quebec restaurant association president Peter Sergakis, Quebec bar association president Renaud Lapointe and famed restaurateur Eric Luksenberg called on Premier Legault to reopen their industry or risk losing half to permanent closures. Among other measures, they demanded a 50% rollback in business taxes.
Creton agreed on that demand. “How can we pay business taxes when the government has stopped our ability to do business and make a living?” Aside from the tax issue, leaders of Saturday’s event also hope that Quebec will allow them to serve clients on terraces. Pick-up and delivery services are simply not enough. Most restaurants are hopelessly in debt from low six figures to low sevens despite partial federal wage and rent supports. Those subsidies are set to end Sept. 25th. Creton had one further suggestion — that Ottawa and Quebec expand the deduction for entertainment expenses for two years once restaurants do reopen to encourage people to go more often.
Owners The Suburban spoke to also complained that the Quebec government’s promised $15,000 per month supports to their establishments were a “joke” that neither covered the rent, nor the property and business taxes they had to pay. They pointed out that most bars and restaurants hadn’t even received them yet.
They also wanted to remind the public that public health director Dr. Horacio Arruda had said on Sept. 25th that there was “no reason to close restaurants because they were following guidelines and there were few cases from that sector.” Restaurants were closed despite that comment some five days later.
So this Saturday why not pass by your favourite spot — or go visit some you’ve never been to — and give some encouragement to struggling entrepreneurs and also for a bit of a taste of our lost joie-de-vivre?