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Trouble on The Main

 

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The former home of American Apparel on St. Laurent Blvd. now carries a For Rent sign. “I won’t deny that the construction on the street did affect traffic,” says Dan Abenhaim, the chain’s Canadian regional director. Other shop owners say the recession and high rents have hurt business on along the strip.

Photograph by: John Mahoney, The Gazette

 

By Irwin Block, The GazetteApril 24, 2009

 

The former home of American Apparel on St. Laurent Blvd. now carries a For Rent sign. “I won’t deny that the construction on the street did affect traffic,” says Dan Abenhaim, the chain’s Canadian regional director. Other shop owners say the recession and high rents have hurt business on along the strip.

 

It’s known to generations as The Main and it’s as Montreal as smoked meat and the Habs.

 

St. Laurent Blvd. is us, and in tribute to its Portuguese component, city officials on Friday inaugurated a dozen marble-topped benches between Bagg and Marie Anne Sts.

 

But things are not going that well for some merchants, especially on the trendiest part of the street between Sherbrooke St. and Pine Ave.

 

It’s still home to such fancy eateries as Buona Notte and Primadonna, but in the past months several major tenants have closed.

 

They include an American Apparel store and a Mac Cosmetics outlet; the space formerly occupied by Sofia Grill at the northwest corner of Prince Arthur St. and St. Laurent is for rent, as are several other shops farther north.

 

Dan Abenhaim, American Apparel’s Canadian regional director, said that after five years the firm decided not to renew the lease. “I won’t deny that the construction on the street did affect traffic and we decided we want to open in another location.”

 

He also said that over five years “the street has changed and the traffic is more north of Pine Ave.”

 

However, clothing shops are also hurting north of Pine, where Adam & Lilith has closed one of two adjoining shops on St. Laurent.

 

According to assistant manager Carmel Pacaud, people are still attracted to the street but they are not buying as they used to.

 

Other shop owners blame almost two years of disruptive road repairs that ended last year, as well as the recession and high rents.

 

“The city has murdered the street,” said one real estate agent, who spoke on the condition his name not be used.

 

People who were put off by the construction are not coming back and there is a moratorium on new restaurants and bars between Sherbrooke and Mount Royal Ave., he added.

 

Rent at the former Mac Cosmetics store is about $7,500 a month for 1,600 square feet. Rents tend to decrease north of Pine.

 

“It’s a little distressing, slower than usual” remarked Marnie Blanshay, who owns Lola & Emily ladies wear just south of the abandoned American Apparel.

 

Many who were discouraged from shopping there by the ripping up and repaving of the strip have not returned, she observed.

 

And because few retail clothing shops remain, hers is more of a “destination store” with fewer shoppers coming by to go from store to store checking out and comparing.

 

“It reminds me of Crescent St. in the 1990s,” she said, adding that “the landlords believe it’s better than it is and need to reduce rents.”

 

When rents go down, the creative people will return to reinject the street’s normal vitality, she said. “St. Laurent Blvd. is not a street where chains succeed.”

 

Apart from Jean Coutu and Pharmaprix, American Apparel was the only chain outlet on the street, noted André Beauséjour, executive director of the Société de développment du Boulevard St. Laurent. He said the vacancy rate between Sherbrooke and Mount Royal is a “normal” two per cent.

 

A stroll up the boulevard yesterday indicated that many stores that have become institutions – Bar Bifteck, Salaison Slovenia, Schreter’s, Coco Rico, Moishe’s, Segal’s grocery, Berson Monuments – are still going concerns.

 

And there was the proverbial lunchtime lineup inside Schwartz’s.

 

But if you have a concept, there is lots of space for rent, including the former Laurentian Bank at St. Laurent and Pine. – all 5,400 square feet.

 

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