Montreal to inject $4-million lifeline into struggling bar and restaurant industry

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By Daniel J. Rowe

MONTREAL -- The City of Montreal will inject $4 million into the bar and restaurant industry in the metropolis in an attempt to lessen the massive damage done during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mayor Valerie Plante said Friday, in an announcement outside Le Central food hall downtown, that the money will be in addition to the $150 million that the business support network PME-MTL said it would spend to help restaurants and bars adapt and reopen after months of closure.

The new $4 million Downtown Bars and Restaurants Recovery Fund will provide aid for those businesses in the broader downtown area.

It can be used by restaurant owners wanting to add a terrasse for the summer or to upgrade their facilities to better protect staff and customers against the spread of COVID-19.

“This summer is going to be crucial, and the minute we can give a little bit of oxygen to them, it’s going to help,” said Plante.

Montreal said it wants to help build a home-grown competitor to food delivery giants like Uber Eats, SkipTheDishes and DoorDash to support struggling restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Luc Rabouin, mayor of the city's Plateau borough, told reporters Montreal will provide $500,000 in funding to help establish a local non-profit or cooperative that can compete with large food delivery services.

The city launched a request for proposals and hopes to work with existing startups, he added.

Rabouin said the city's intention is to help struggling restaurants that are dealing with the high cost of delivery services, which he said can increase a takeout bill by as much as 30 per cent.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) was quick to applaud the city's plan.

"We are encouraged by the City of Montreal's action to provide relief to bar and restaurant owners," said CFIB Quebec vice-president Francois Vincent.

"Many of them do not even know when they will be able to reopen. With the average debt load of a Quebec small business in the restaurant sector reaching $206,944, there is no room to add more debt. Direct assistance is essential."

Plante said she's hoping to see all terrasses open by June 1 with public health authorities' blessings.

On Thursday, Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube partially brushed off her request to open restaurants by next month. He implied the mayor's idea was influenced by her desire to glad-hand with voters ahead of November's municipal election, adding that city politicians should "remain calm."

Plante told reporters Friday she had been in touch with Dube and while she understands his concerns, she said restaurants need predictability to hire staff and buy supplies.

Opening patios can be part of a "progressive" reopening plan for bars and restaurants, she said.

-- With files from The Canadian Press

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