Get­ting out to lo­cal stores is a re­minder that goods, ser­vices are also about liveli­hoods

The Globe and Mail (BC Edition) - - NEWS - DENISE BALKISSOON

Aspoiler alert for my hus­band: your Fa­ther’s Day gift was made in Mex­ico, from ma­te­rial that came from the United States. The im­age on it was printed in Canada, and I got it at the Mon­treal store YUL De­signs.

Its multi­na­tional ori­gins show the lim­i­ta­tions of the ex­er­cise I was en­gag­ing in on Boule­vard Saint-Lau­rent this week, as I made an ef­fort to sup­port the cre­ators and re­tail­ers in Canada’s most stylish city. But the point wasn’t just to buy things – I was also there to chat with sales­peo­ple and restau­rant servers and con­trib­ute to the on­go­ing vi­brancy of a his­toric street.

In the wake of U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s dis­in­cli­na­tion to play nice on trade is­sues, there’s been much talk of boy­cotting his coun­try’s goods in re­turn. That take is un­der­stand­able, but born out of spite, and, in such a gloomy cli­mate, I’m re­luc­tant to make shop­ping less fun. It seemed more op­ti­mistic to seek out things that felt good to buy, so since I’m vis­it­ing Mon­treal this month, I took a walk through Mile End.

I browsed at stores such as Bou­tique Uni­corn, Elec­tric Kidz and Mer­can­tile Clark, all of­fer­ing cute, cov­etable goods by Que­bec de­sign­ers.

There was a clear ef­fort to show­case things made lo­cally with lo­cal ma­te­ri­als, such as at Low­ell, which spe­cial­izes in beau­ti­ful bags made of re­cy­cled fur and cow’s leather from Canada (and, okay, the United States).

La­bels such as Valérie Du­maine, Jen­nifer Glas­gow and Betina Lou pop up again and again, show­ing that own­ers aren’t avoid­ing la­bels car­ried by other nearby sell­ers. That friend­li­ness is a breath of fresh air and a smart ap­proach: See­ing neighbours as col­lab­o­ra­tors rather than com­peti­tors is im­por­tant for bricks-and-mor­tar en­trepreneurs if they want to sur­vive.

Mon­treal’s re­tail in­dus­try pulls in $40-bil­lion an­nu­ally, but bou­tique own­ers here are fac­ing a “per­fect storm” of dif­fi­cul­ties, says Guy Cormier, pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Mou­ve­ment Des­jardins. Those in­clude in­ter­na­tional is­sues, such as the con­sumer shift to on­line shop­ping, and lo­cal ones, such as in­fra­struc­ture projects cre­at­ing a con­struc­tion mess that keeps cus­tomers off the streets.

Since April, Mr. Cormier has been chair­ing an ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee on the city’s com­mer­cial development plan. Last Monday, it pre­sented city coun­cil with a re­port full of what Mr. Cormier be­lieves are re­al­is­tic, easy-to-im­ple­ment ideas for help­ing re­tail­ers, es­pe­cially lit­tle mo­mand-pops.

These in­clude im­me­di­ate prop­erty tax re­lief for com­mer­cial build­ings worth $500,000 or less, a tac­tic aimed specif­i­cally at help­ing small­busi­ness own­ers, not the large chains dot­ting Sainte-Cather­ine. “They don’t nec­es­sar­ily need the same kind of help from the city as the smaller re­tail­ers who are on Lau­rier Street, on Wellington Street, on St. Lau­rent Street or St. De­nis Street,” Mr. Cormier said.

By Wednesday, Mayor Valérie Plante had agreed to im­ple­ment one of the group’s sug­ges­tions, mak­ing Mon­treal Canada’s first mu­nic­i­pal­ity to re­im­burse mer­chants for losses ow­ing to con­struc­tion.

The city is go­ing to put aside $25-mil­lion for pay­ments up to $30,000 for a sin­gle busi­ness, which will be retroac­tive from the be­gin­ning of 2016 and go through 2021.

Al­though his main task was to get gov­ern­ment help, Mr. Cormier ac­knowl­edged the need for en­trepreneurs to rise to the chal­lenge. He’s spo­ken to neigh­bour­hood busi­ness as­so­ci­a­tions about throw­ing street fairs and other events that draw a crowd, work­ing to­gether to cre­ate des­ti­na­tions that draw shop­pers out­side and away from multi­na­tion­als’ web­sites.

Con­sumers clearly have a part to play as well and there’s a long list of rea­sons to sup­port brick­sand-mor­tar shop­ping.

One is the grow­ing eco­log­i­cal foot­print of on­line shop­ping, from in­creased ve­hi­cle emis­sions – ow­ing to home de­liv­ery of in­di­vid­ual items by large trucks – to ex­cess pack­ag­ing, such as those plas­tic air bub­bles that are in­ex­pli­ca­bly tucked around even sturdy items, such as hard­cover books.

And while lo­cally made goods do of­ten cost more, con­sider the many scan­dals cur­rently be­ing han­dled by Ama­zon, which sells 43 per cent of ev­ery­thing bought on­line. The world’s big­gest on­line re­tailer has been ac­cused of sup­press­ing unions in Ger­many, vi­o­lat­ing labour laws in China and cre­at­ing such a hos­tile work en­vi­ron­ment that pack­ers in its Bri­tain ware­houses fear tak­ing their legally al­lowed bath­room breaks – huge in­ven­to­ries, low prices and free ship­ping come with hid­den costs.

The con­ti­nent-wide con­struc­tion of my hus­band’s present shows the lim­i­ta­tions of lo­cal shop­ping, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a worth­while en­deav­our. Get­ting out on the street is a re­minder that goods and ser­vices are also about liveli­hoods and com­mu­nity, not to men­tion hu­man­ity, which we could use a lit­tle more of right now.

ALEXEY SKRIPANEV/ALAMY

Peo­ple walk along Rue St-Paul in the Old Port of Mon­treal in 2016. Mon­treal’s re­tail in­dus­try pulls in $40-bil­lion an­nu­ally, but bou­tique own­ers in the city are fac­ing a ‘per­fect storm’ of dif­fi­cul­ties, says Guy Cormier, pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Mou­ve­ment Des­jardins.

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