Mile End record stores uncertain about future as they face fines over business hours

Independent record stores are wondering about their future in Mile End after being fined thousands of dollars for being open past 5 p.m. on the weekend.

Four stores — Phonopolis, Sonorama, La Rama and Death of Vinyl — were visited by an inspector from the provincial Economy and Innovation Ministry on Saturday, April 13, and all were given notices saying they were open too late. The fines, issued by the Justice Ministry, arrived this month.

They were taking part in Record Store Day, where shops around the world sell exclusive pressings and hold events to promote supporting independent retailers.

Eduardo Cabral, co-owner of Sonorama, says it was the first time in his 35 years working at Montreal record stores that he had a visit from a provincial inspector, who arrived around 5:40 p.m.

Instead of handing Cabral a warning, the inspector gave him a notice saying his case would be passed on to the Justice Ministry to determine the fine — with the minimum being $1,500.

This month, he received a notice by mail that he is being asked to pay more than $2,000, including fees, for being open late on weekends.

"It's like three months' pay that they're taking from us.… It's not right," he told CBC News.

"Should I stay open? Should I close the store? It could go that far."

Antoni Nerestant/CBC

'An outrageous law'

A block west on Bernard Avenue, Phonopolis has been fined a total of more than $2,900 for two infractions in April over its operating hours.

"It's mind-boggling. It's an outrageous law that makes very little sense. It clearly allows them to target certain businesses and not others," Nick Kirschner, co-owner of Phonopolis, told CBC Montreal's Let's Go.

Listen to Kirschner's full interview below.

"We're trying to operate with best intentions and spirits and lawfulness in our community, and we're having a hell of a time."

The shops say they're looking into contesting the tickets.

They argue that the stretch of Bernard Avenue that goes through Mile End should be designated a tourist zone, which would allow them to be open later.

"For everybody, it's a tourist quarter," said Cabral. "There's tourist [groups] passing on the street maybe 10 times a week."

Phonopolis/Facebook

Bookstores exempted — even if they sell records

The law governing opening hours allows for some businesses to be exempted, including bookstores and those that primarily sell artwork or antiques. However, the record stores — which sell new and used vinyl, as well as some books and magazines — apparently don't meet that criteria.

Just a few blocks away from the Bernard Avenue record shops, on Parc Avenue, a Renaud-Bray location is open until 10 p.m. daily.

"It is very unjust," said Mathieu Grondin, a spokesperson for MTL 24/24, which advocates for Montreal's night culture and related issues.

"You have major chains like Renaud-Bray and Archambault, which are bookstores [but] also happen to sell records, and they can be open on weekends after 5 p.m., no problem," he said.

Rising rents changing face of Mile End

Grondin says the small record stores are "cultural hubs" where DJs and dancers buy music and network.

With rising rents in Mile End making it harder for tenants and local businesses to stay afloat, this recent crackdown is putting further pressure on the very people that have given the neighbourhood its international cultural cachet, said Grondin.

"Why use a hammer to kill a fly?" he said. "A lot of music venues have been closing down.… This really doesn't help."

He says that the city should extend business hours on its own — using the powers it gained when it was given "metropolis" status through Bill 121 in 2017.

"There's a toolbox that Bill 121 [provides], but the people at the municipality seems to be a little bit shy to use it," he said.

"We don't need to go up to Quebec City to do this."

A spokesperson for Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante and city's executive committee said they are looking at creating a framework for evening opening hours using the powers granted by Bill 121.

While the stores were fined under provincial law, spokesperson Catherine Cadotte said "we are more than willing to support our local businesses, and we can grant specific exemptions, if the businesses ask us to do so."

The city is currently holding public consultations on what to about the prevalence of empty storefronts in several Montreal neighbourhoods.

The Quebec Economy and Innovation Ministry did not immediately return a request for comment.