Rac­ing pas­sion turns prof­its

Bou­tique with Fer­rari li­cens­ing rights keeps owner close to the track ac­tion

Montreal Gazette - - Grand Prix - Jim Leggett Spe­cial to tHe GaZette F1 Bou­tique canada is at 28 St. paul St. e., 514-393-9904 or wwwf1bou­tique­canada.com

How far are you will­ing to go to sat­isfy your pas­sion for a sport? Would you build a busi­ness to get close to the scene that you love?

Well, Max Bit­ton has done just that, and it’s been a chal­leng­ing jour­ney for this For­mula One fan.

Af­ter a car ac­ci­dent ended his dreams of a rac­ing ca­reer, Bit­ton be­gan look­ing at other ways of be­ing close to the ac­tion. He no­ticed that at driver sign­ings, where fans get au­to­graphs on sou­venirs, the mer­chan­dis­ers were on the in­side of the vel­vet ropes with his heroes.

“I had done some rac­ing my­self, be­gin­ning with kart­ing and I re­ally loved it,” ex­plain Bit­ton. “I moved up to rac­ing cars but af­ter my ac­ci­dent (on the road, not track) my doc­tor said I shouldn’t risk in­jur­ing my neck and back.”

But Bit­ton could not get the sound of For­mula One cars out of his head. He had lis­tened to them as a kid when he worked at his par­ents restau­rant at LaRonde.

And so in 1994 he and his fam­ily opened a small kiosk on the King Ed­ward Pier in Old Mon­treal and for five years they sold sou­venirs and col­lectibles dur­ing the sum­mer months.

An­other big turn­ing point came in 2001, when Bit­ton met some peo­ple from Fer­rari while in Eng­land. In 2002, he be­came the of­fi­cial li­censee for Fer­rari mer­chan­dise for Canada. The F1 Bou­tique Canada was on a roll.

In 2007, Bit­ton moved to its cur­rent lo­ca­tion on St. Paul St. East in Old Mon­treal. But just two years later disas­ter struck when Canada lost its only F1 race. Would this be the end of Bit­ton’s dream?

While the crown jewel of rac­ing was gone, Mon­treal was now the site of NAS­CAR’s only race in Canada with the NAPA 200 and Bit­ton ex­panded his line of prod­ucts to in­clude the Amer­i­can-style race mer­chan­dise. Sou­venirs of hockey teams and the World Cup helped fill the miss­ing F1 event sales but it was a very tough time for the shop, which suf­fered a 90-per-cent drop in rac­ing re­lated sales.

“All the other mo­tor­sports stores closed. We were the only one’s who made it through,” nod­ded Bit­ton.

Not one to wait for things to change on their own, Bit­ton used so­cial me­dia like Face­book and Twit­ter to start a pe­ti­tion by fans to sup­port ef­forts to re­trieve the For­mula One race for Mon­treal.

“At one time we had close to 10,000 fol­low­ers on our Face­book pe­ti­tion,” a very proud Bit­ton claimed. “This was from the fans and I am al­ways a fan first and a busi­ness­man sec­ond.”

Lo and be­hold, the race re­turned to Mon­treal and while we will never know what part the pe­ti­tion and out­cry from the fans played in its re­turn, it se­cured the bou­tique as a fan-friendly place where teams, driv­ers and race fans alike drop by.

“We have friends from all over the world who email us, call us and come by all year round,” laughed Bit­ton. “It’s like a fam­ily.”

As the only sanc­tioned mer­chan­diser, Bit­ton op­er­ates a satel­lite bou­tique on Cres­cent Street at the LG Fes­ti­val du Grand Prix sur Cres­cent dur­ing race week­end and out­side the métro sta­tion on Île Ste. Hélène as well as the store on St. Paul where there were spe­cial events, dis­plays and prizes.

The bou­tique has unique col­lec­tions of li­censed Red Bull, Fer­rari and Lo­tus team gear that you can’t find else­where. An in­cred­i­ble se­lec­tion of more than 2,000 prod­ucts fea­tur­ing Puma shoes, rac­ing col­lectibles, die-cast cars and cloth­ing await the hard­core fan from the man who may be Mon­treal’s big­gest For­mula One fan.

pHo­toS By Liz Leggett Spe­cial to tHe GaZette

Max Bit­ton’s For­mula one bou­tique in old Mon­treal is filled with Fer­rari mer­chan­dise and F1 mem­o­ra­bilia. “We have friends from all over the world who email us, calls us and come by.”

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