Struggles, closures continue for Bishop St. merchants facing years of construction

As more and more businesses close from ongoing construction, the merchants on Bishop St. that remain are pointing the finger at City Hall and the downtown merchants association for offering them no help.

Elio Schiavi’s restaurant Ferrari has been open since 1981, but he's not sure if it will be much longer.

“Now I don’t know if I’m going to make it to the end [of the STM's construction project],” Schiavi said. “Because you know, it’s very difficult.”

His business dropped 20 per cent last year, he added.

The construction to build a new ventilation system for the Guy-Concordia Metro station has been ongoing since 2016, and will continue until at least 2020.

Schiavi says he received no support from Destination Centre-Ville, a non-profit merchants association intended to promote downtown businesses.

He is not alone. Before declaring bankruptcy and closing, the owner of nearby Mesa 14 said he received no support from the non-profit.

On top of that, they say it would not give them a break on the annual membership dues of roughly $900. Schiavi says he initially refused to pay the fee in protest, but later did after Destination Centre-Ville sent a bailiff after him to collect.

Destination Centre-Ville could not be reached for comment by Bell Media on Sunday. Last week, the group's president told the CBC helping businesses affected by roadwork was "not part of their mission or mandate."

The City of Montreal seems to disagree, however.

"Our administration has recently met with Bishop Street merchants. We were surprised to hear that they had received no help from [Destination Centre-Ville]," Robert Beaudry, the executive committee member responsible for economic development, said in a statement.

"Merchants should be able to receive appropriate help in times of need," he continued, adding "millions of dollars available to merchants to help them cope with construction. It is then up to [merchant organizations] to ensure such programs are put to good use as we’ve seen with other streets."

Several Bishop St. business owners, including Schiavi, have taken the City of Montreal, the STM, and Destination Centre-Ville to court to demand compensation. The case is expected to be heard next year, but Schiavi is the only plaintiff that remains in business.

Meantime, despite saying on the campaign trail that there is a “need to give a tax break to businesses" affected by major construction, Mayor Valerie Plante hasn't offered any relief since arriving at City Hall.

There is speculation the city could use some of the $150 million in funding from the province, announced last week to boost economic development, to compensate Bishop St. businesses. However, no formal announcement has been made.