Montreal is trying to save its downtown

Rue Sainte-Catherine, in Montreal, September 2020.

It’s a fatalist “Welcome to the ghost town! “ welcome you to the saleswoman of this women’s clothing store in one of the many shopping malls in downtown Montreal. In mid-September, in the shops of rue Sainte-Catherine, the main shopping artery of the Quebec metropolis, the security guards have little difficulty in enforcing the gauges of ten or thirty people allowed depending on the size of the store.

Customers are rare, only a few high school girls create a mini-traffic jam at the entrance of a fashionable sign. Montrealers have deserted their downtown area to fall back on their neighborhoods, which are moreover made more pleasant thanks to the pedestrianization of a certain number of streets. The traders end the summer with a turnover that has fallen by half.

On the front of the Entrecôte Saint-Jean restaurant, an institution on Peel Street, two posters summarize the evolution of the situation; the first, affixed in March, warns its customers of a provisional closure of two weeks. The second announces the bankruptcy of the establishment.

“Come back to the office”

In Montreal before the pandemic, nearly 600,000 people passed through the city center daily, including 350,000 workers. An influx that brought stores, bars and restaurants to life. Today, consumers have adopted new habits and shop (“do their shopping” in Quebec) online, when only 8% of employees have returned to their offices in the city’s high towers. “Come back to the office! “, desperately pleads the mayor, Valérie Plante, relying on the authorization issued by the government of Quebec to bring back up to a quarter of the staff, but many employees are reluctant to give up teleworking.

“I went back to the office once in early September, says an employee of Cogeco, a major Quebec telecommunications group located in the city center, I had to wait half an hour before getting in the elevator to the fourteenth floor, ditto to come down at the end of the day, depriving myself of lunch. The calculation is quickly done. “

Most of the large service companies, such as the Desjardins bank, have also announced that teleworking will remain the norm at least until next January, and are already working on a “hybrid” return to school in the long term: three days at the office, two days. home. This could reduce office needs by 30% in the near future.

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