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The Main 2.0 is 'a street of dreams'


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Published on: April 29, 2017 | Last Updated: April 29, 2017 7:01 AM EDT
The line outside Schwartz's on St-Laurent Blvd.

The line outside Schwartz's on St-Laurent Blvd. GIOVANNI CAPRIOTTI / MONTREAL GAZETTE FILES

A decade ago the city attempted to murder The Main, in a three-year-long Festival of Construction that left the street on life support. For years after, the most popular chain on St-Laurent Blvd. was named “A Louer.”

But this spring, at last, the Main has finally recovered and embraced a new life – like many times in its long, ever-changing history.

Welcome to The Main 2.0.

Two years ago I counted 30 “For Rent” signs on the street between Prince-Arthur and Duluth Sts. alone. But on a walk last week I saw only four — a trend that’s sweeping the Main right up to Mont-Royal Ave.

Everywhere you turn there are new cafés, galleries, clothing shops, yoga studios and skateboard fashion boutiques — sometimes splitting the same shop.

You’ve heard of ride-sharing, house-sharing and job-sharing. Well, now there’s a shop-sharing economy.

Take Art Gang, a designer clothing boutique that just opened on the Main, sharing its large bright room with Caffelini, a terrific espresso café that’s plunked amidst the fashionable clothing racks — and owned by a different person.

The 27-year-old café-owner Jordan Myall knew 30-year-old clothing shop-owner Tiago Curado from Mile End. When he heard Tiago was opening a shop on the Main he had a brainstorm:

“Why not share the space, the rent and the customers?

“Now, people come in for a jacket and buy a latte, or sit round having an espresso, and notice some clothing they like,” says Jordan. “It’s a different experience.

“How else do you fight Amazon or the big coffee chains?,” he says pointing directly across the street where a big Starbucks looms. “You offer something unusual.”

Further up the Main at Ballet Hop, owner Camille Rouleau, 26, recently opened a dance studio that co-habits with a boutique selling dance clothing, and local handicrafts.

They owners also share a restaurant/café in the same space.

“We wanted to create an experience where people come shopping, then get interested in dance lessons … then have lunch, meet people and interact. And it’s happening –we’re a real community.”

There’s also a new yoga studio/vegan restaurant and a Japanese resto/Vietnamese sandwich place. What’s the next hybrid on the street: a martial arts dépanneur? A Hardware and Hookah shop? Noodles and Poodles?

The Main 2.0 generation is drawn here because they know its legendary reputation, even if they were too young to experience it

“I knew it was a famous street that fell on hard times,” says Tiago. “But in the last two years I could see it was coming back … and I wanted to be part of it.”

“In five years this street is going to be huge,” says Jordan, “I want to be part of that vibe. I’m a dreamer and this is a street of dreams”

My long time optometrist Michael Toulch is a surviving veteran of the street, like Schwartz’s, Moishe’s, Vieille Europe and other stalwarts. But he feels the vibe too.


An abandoned building on the corner of St-Laurent Blvd. and Pins Ave. in 2010. The building has since been restored and turned into an optometrist. BRYANNA BRADLEY / MONTREAL GAZETTE FILES

He just moved down the street to a bigger new location, corner Pins Ave. The building had been abandoned for a decade, the Main’s worst graffiti-covered, boarded-up window eyesore.

But all the eyesore needed was glasses — lots of them. Toulch stripped the crumbling floor and walls and uncovered a gorgeous space that’s attracted crowds of new customers.

“For a long time, stores were empty but rents were still crazy high. Now they’re finally falling and a new generation can afford to move in.

“There’s definitely something happening here.”

The street has reached a “tipping point” according to Tasha Morizio, head of the St-Laurent storeowners’ association, which mid-wived the Main’s re-birth.

Last year the shop-owner group jointly hired their own full-time street concierge to sweep the sidewalks, shovel snow, polish lampposts, install flower boxes and clean off graffiti faster than the City was doing.

“The better the street looks, the better people treat it and the less they vandalize it,” she says.

This summer St-Laurent Blvd. will host block parties, mural festivals, barbecue competitions and two massive street festivals. “The days of complaining the Main is dead are over,” says Tasha. “Our street is back.”

Main 2.0 isn’t the Main of old. The characters who once filled the street are largely gone: yakky Mrs. Levy who ran Warsaw’s, gruff Simcha the fruit-seller, Mr. Berson the rock behind Berson gravestone monuments and others who grew up before service-with-a-smile was invented.

In their place is this young generation of optimistic how-can-I-help-you dreamers.

Can Main 2.0 continue to grow to symbolize the city like the original Main Classic did? Can it fight off online buying that’s decimating streets and malls everywhere?

The Main has been reinvented a dozen times since the dawn of the 20th century – sinking then swimming on new waves of Chinese, Jews, Hungarians, Portuguese, hippies, Gen-Xers and others who streamed in.

I’m betting on the street again. I believe in the Miracle of the Main.


Edited by Mondo_Grosso
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Le miracle de la Main!! Une artère indispensable qu'il faut constamment renouveler et rendre actuelle. On espère que la "nouvelle" rue Prince Arthur, le Carré Saint-Laurent et le Myriad vont venir rajouter de la vitalité et confirmer le nouvel élan de la Main.

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Voilà le ''spirit'' qu'il faut avoir pour relancer la Main. Un article intéressant d'une personne qui aime vraiment la Main et qui ne veut que son succès.

Et oui, moi aussi je sens que ca grouille sur la Main et que le vent est en train de tourner. Il y a une nouvelle ''vibe'' intéressante et nul doute que cela va contribuer grandement à cette fameuse rue. Il n'y a qu'une ''Main'' et elle continue de se transformer et surtout de s'adapter aux nouvelles générations. Et tout cela sans aide de la ville ! 

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Je sais que c'est plus facile à dire «après» (constater) que «avant» (prédire), mais je pense que le succès renouvelé de la «Main» tient pour beaucoup à des facteurs inhérents à sa localisation au beau milieu d'un quartier dense qui se distingue par la grande diversité de ses résidents, en termes d'âges, d'origines, d'occupations et de statut socio-économique. La Main se trouve  être le point naturel de convergence de tous ces gens; la diversité des interfaces produit spontanément une dynamique unique  --qui à son tour attire aussi des personnes de l'«extérieur».

J'irais même jusqu'à dire que la fréquentation par ces gens de l'extérieur (du quartier, etc), aussi souhaitée et désirable qu'elle soit, n'est pas essentielle à son dynamisme  --en d'autres mots, ce n'est pas un «Disneyland» qui mourrait* sans eux.    (*mode grammatical: conditionnel...)  Et une autre façon de dire la même chose serait d'imaginer la même rue, avec ses mêmes boutiques, cafés, restaurants, ateliers, etc, mais plantée au beau milieu d'un quartier de banlieue ou encore au coeur d'un quartier urbain dévasté: cette rue ne pourrait jamais être comme la Main.  Celle-ci vit par et pour le quartier tel qu'il est et tel qu'il évolue avec le temps.

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