Merchants in Montréal-Nord look to join forces to attract shoppers, boost local economy
Business owners on two commercial strips in the borough of Montréal-Nord already have a merchants' association, but now they want to take it a step further in an effort to strengthen the local economy and attract shoppers to the area.
"We're looking for new ways to promote businesses and make sure customers keep coming back," said Olivier Trudeau, project manager for the merchants' association that covers Charleroi Street and Pie-IX Boulevard.
Montreal has a long-standing program that allows merchants on commercial strips to form a non-profit organization called a Société de développement commercial (SDC).
The city then collects dues from merchants, inflates the amount with public funds and then hands it to the SDC so it can invest in economic development — attracting customers to the area through ad campaigns, promotional activities and events like festivals or sidewalk sales.
Montreal has 24 SDCs spread across its territory, involving more than 12,000 businesses.
However, forming an SDC isn't just a matter of filling out a form and sending it off for approval.
There is a process, according to Tasha Morizio, executive director of the SDC on St-Laurent Boulevard and president of Montreal's association of SDCs.
"There has to be a bunch of merchants who are mobilized and who want an SDC in their territory, which Montréal-Nord has," she said, but the process of getting an SDC approved is comparable to a referendum as merchants can vote against forming one.
Paying dues to get a return
It is the borough council that determines the boundaries of a commercial zone. How much the merchants pay in dues is determined by the SDC and approved by the borough council. Then the city handles the billing.
With the dues obligatory rather than voluntary, SDCs are able to plan for long-term projects and activities to attract customers, explained Morizio.
And the extra funding from the city is just the tip of the iceberg as forming an SDC makes grants and other government funding opportunities more accessible, she said. For every dollar that merchants pay in dues, they normally get that back three fold, she said.
SDCs allow for large-scale promotional campaigns that go well beyond what most merchants are able to do on their own, Morizio said. While many business owners don't have the money or time to invest in advertising, SDCs can pump thousands into promoting the entire commercial strip, she said.
But not everybody wants to pay the dues, and sometimes attempts to form an SDC fail. That's why it is crucial that merchants' associations educate business owners in their area, she said.
Hesitant to spend the money
One hesitant restaurant owner is Aldo Louis who has had a business on Pix-IX for more than 12 years.
He remembers a time when the place was hopping, but then construction on Pie-IX began in November 2018 to make way for a rapid-bus service. Business hasn't been the same since. Now he's wondering if paying dues for an SDC is worth the price, he said.
"We have a lot to pay already," said Louis, owner of Resto Dèdèt. "We're not talking little cents and dollars. It's a lot of money."
Trudeau remains confident that merchants will support the effort, as the Association des commerçants de Charleroi et Pie-IX has been working with 170 merchants for a number of years.
"They have seen some results of what we could do with a SDC," he said, but he admits there are still merchants who need convincing.
"It is true that some have expressed concern about the contribution amount, but we have not faced strong opposition so far," Trudeau said. "We are still in consultation mode and ready to listen to the merchants' concerns."
Trudeau said the association will submit its demand to become an SDC to the borough next month and, once approved, the first step will be to launch more promotions, not just locally but also further away as the area does attract shoppers from places like Laval.
"We want to make sure that people know that we exist and that we have different services and goods to offer," he said.
Montréal-Nord Coun. Abdelhaq Sari, representing the Marie-Clarac district, said elected officials are in favour of forming an SDC.
"We look forward to continuing to work with those who keep our local commercial streets alive, whatever their decision on this matter," he said in a statement.