A bakery and pastry shop on St-Viateur St. is closing after its rent shot up – and some believe it's part of a deliberate strategy.
After 13 years at the corner of Jeanne-Mance and St-Viateur, Chez De Gaulle will close in two weeks.
A few years ago, the monthly rent for the 83-square-metre bakery was $1,900. Bought by a new owner in 2015, the rent has now more than tripled to $6,000 per month.
"They tell me 'It's Mile End, it's St-Viateur' but I say, 'Okay, it's not the Champs-d'Elysses non plus,'" said owner De Gaulle Helou.
A few blocks east at St-Viateur and St-Laurent, the former Cagibi bar sits empty. The restaurant and venue moved last year after the owner wanted to double the rent.
"I've been noticing more and more vacant spaces rather than family or private businesses," said Cagibi co-op member Dani Straughan.
Montreal realtor Shiller Lavy owns Helou's building and others on the street. The company refused CTV Montreal's request for an interview into why so many rents are going up.
According to commercial consultant Glenn Castaniara, though, it can be a good strategy to leave a storefront vacant, especially in such a trendy location.
"Many landlords that speculate and prefer to keep the building vacant or wait for a bigger banner to come in and pay twice what the rent normally is," he said.
Unlike residential leases, commercial spaces are rented out as a contract between the business and the owner, explained Castaniara, so it's not illegal for rents to skyrocket.
In turn, though, that affects other spaces on the street.
"They affect the whole commercial strip because it gives the impression of blight," said Castaniara.
He points to Chicago as a model, where empty businesses need to be on a register and pay a fee with the city. It's something Montreal is also looking at, said Mayor Valerie Plante.
"The empty tax -- or if we can charge them if they leave the locale vacant is definitely an area we're looking into, but it's not a simple one. Often it's power we need to get from Quebec," she said.
For now, it leaves merchants like Helou with little choice but to move.
"If you don't accept the deal, you can leave and go to another place," he said.
He now plans to move his business out of Montreal altogether – and to St-Jean-sur-Richelieu.
His last day on St-Viateur is July 14.