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St. Catherine Street: the changing of the guard Remember that little boutique where you bought the leather jacket 15 years ago? It’s gone. If you have not visited St.Catherine Street in Montreal since the early 1990s, you would not recognize it. Of the stores that were located in the prime area between Bishop and University, not more than fi ve are still in existence. The locallyowned stores are gone, replaced at first by national retail chains, which in turn are giving way to international chains. Storefront retail throughout North America has been in decline for many years. St. Catherine Street is the exception. Rental rates have quadrupled. Vacancies are nonexistent. It is not just any street. Fifteen kilometres long, St. Catherine comprises 1,200 stores, making it the largest concentration of retail outlets in Canada. The street is witness to 3,500 pedestrians per hour, 250,000 offi ce workers at lunchtime, and 100,000 students per day, keeping the street alive at all hours. Furthermore, eight subway stations, 30 kilometres of underground walkways with 178 entrances, and 2,000 underground stores totalling 36 million square feet (sq. ft.) of floor space are used by 500,000 people on a daily basis. In street front retail, if you don’t have a store on St. Catherine Street, you have not made it. There are two strategies for retail chains entering Quebec: 1) open a fl agship store on St. Catherine Street; or 2) open four or five stores in major malls around Montreal, and a flagship store on St. Catherine Street. At the corner of Peel and St. Catherine, three of the four corner stores have changed in the past year. The newcomers are H&M (Hennes & Mauritz of Sweden) with 20,000 sq. ft; Guess with 13,000 sq. ft; and American Eagle, with 17,000 sq. ft and Apple Store. In the last five years, more than 20 flagship stores have opened here, mostly multinationals, such as: Lululemon, Oakley, American Eagle, Esprit, Garage, Guess, Khiels, Geox, GNC, Ecco Shoes, H&M, Mango, French Connection, Quicksilver, Marciano and Adidas. The shortage of space forces stores to take minimal frontage on the ground floor, and more space on the second and third fl oors. Ground fl oor space that leased in the early 1990s for $50 net per sq. ft. (psf ), with the landlord offering $25 per sq. ft. for leasehold improvements, now leases for $200 net psf and up, plus $30 psf for operating costs and taxes. And some of the stores spend $5 million renovating the space. But as they say in Rolls Royce dealerships, if you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it. Some of these stores are not making money, but they are here for image and marketing purposes. All the other banners are here, so they have to be here too. Whereas the mixture of stores constantly evolves, most of the landlords have been here for 30 or 40 years. They have seen the market go up and down. In this market, they will turn down all but the best. For one vacancy last year, there were four multinational chains trying to outbid each other for the space. http://www.avisonyoung.com/library/pdf/National/Fall-Winter_2008_AY_National_Newsletter.pdf
Borough in bloom Concerted efforts of long-time residents and more recent transplants have helped buff away Verdun's dodgier side KRISTIAN GRAVENORFreelance Thursday, September 06, 2007 CREDIT: JOHN MAHONEY, THE GAZETTEVerdun resident Claire Garneau was instrumental in revitalizing the park of Notre Dame de Lourdes Church, an example of the borough's revival.The scraggly, weed-covered lawn of the neighbouring Notre Dame de Lourdes Church at Verdun and Fourth Aves. never impressed resident Claire Garneau. She envisioned a magnificent park and started mobilizing. "I've lived in Verdun for all of my 52 years and felt sad about the state of that land. People were hesitant to do anything to turn it into a park. They said it would just attract drug addicts. All sorts of people were against it," says Garneau. After six years of holding fundraising plays and concerts, hitting up businesses and government, as well as countless blisters resulting from endless volunteer landscaping work, the park has officially opened its doors as an urban oasis amid the oft-maligned avenues of Verdun. "It's amazing to see the changes, and the respect has followed. People are proud of the place," Garneau says. "They sit in the garden, they read books, eat their lunch there and toss out their garbage afterwards. The people who were against the park aren't against it any more." The park is one of countless small initiatives that has combined to transform the southwest riverside borough of Verdun. The area, once synonymous in many minds with welfare and dilapidation, has seen government assistance rates fall to eight per cent, about half the rate of 1994, while property values in many parts have quadrupled since the late 1990s. Although the Verdun butterfly might look like it suddenly busted out from a cocoon, the changes are the result of 15 years of snail-like progress, according to Roger Cadieux. In 1991 the veteran physician traded hats for a job leading economic community development as the head of the Economic Forum of Verdun, which has 240 dues-paying members. "Every year citizens and businesses start little projects, small renovations - we've had about 150 projects a year for 15 years and we supported them and published tributes to them. You can really see the changes have added up," he says. When he set up his medical clinic in Verdun in the 1960s, Cadieux got an eyeful of social problems that plagued the area. "We'd see young pregnant girls having problems raising their children. And for a time the welfare was much too high - people saw it as an old-age pension that they could get early. I saw people with no future or hope." Verdun was full of families of workers at GE and Sherwin-Williams. As the jobs went, they too disappeared. The area lost 10,000 residents in the 1990s, leaving approximately 60,000 today. So the area ditched its industrial image and went green. The sprucing up of Verdun relied heavily on the waterfront, which was jazzed up with trees and bike paths. "I'm lucky enough to live on LaSalle Blvd.; 40 years ago I had no idea I'd be able to put a sailboat in front. The waterfront is Verdun's great natural resource," says Cadieux. But like many Verduners, Cadieux admits that the city hasn't fully shed its bingo, welfare and hot-dog persona. "We did a focus group of about 60 new arrivals and noticed that a lot of their ideas about Verdun are quite negative." The borough is roughly divided into three areas: Nuns' Island, which has a population of 16,000; the wealthier area west of the avenues; and then downtown, or east Verdun, which has the highest level of poverty in the area. Another veteran of Verdun's slow march forward is Verdun's development commissioner, Alain Laroche, who was lured away from a journalism career in St. Laurent in the early 1990s. Laroche offers frequent bus tours to new residents, where he points out how a modest cottage in Crawford Park sold for $300,000. But he glosses over the ongoing challenge of Verdun's empty storefronts, a blight partially tackled by zoning that requires almost all empty stores to revert to residential except for on Wellington and de L'Église. Laroche also credits an influx of Plateau yuppies for the turnaround. "Developers started advertising on the Plateau, pointing out that people can buy an 850-square-foot condo here for about $160,000. It's as cheap to own here as it is to rent on the Plateau. Once they started coming, it really snowballed." But the fast-paced gentrification is a challenge to Verdun's traditional social mix, which includes a working-class population. "We try to buy property to build cooperatives to find a place for them, but developers are always snapping them up first," Laroche says. Much has changed, but Laroche is visualizing far more. Some of the next stages of evolution he visualizes include having the four top floors of the city parking lot turned into boutiques, hotels and restaurants. The Verdun auditorium - which costs the administration nearly a million dollars a year to operate - could also be made into a conference centre, and there could also one day be a bridge along Galt to Nuns' Island.