Around 30 black-clad, masked individuals stormed a boutique grocery store in St-Henri on Saturday night, throwing smoke bombs, stealing food and leaving an employee stunned.
The masked group sprayed anti-capitalist graffiti and pasted an anti-gentrification poster on the storefront windows of 3734, a small grocery store connected to a restaurant on Notre-Dame West.
Montreal police estimate the group barged into the store around 8:30 p.m. The store's co-owner, Maxime Tremblay, said there was a lone employee inside at the time.
"They told her don't do anything, don't move, we just want to steal things," Tremblay said. "She was completely in shock … she felt really threatened."
Police have yet to make any arrests. But Saturday night's attack is only the latest in a series of incidents in which businesses along Notre-Dame Street have been vandalized with anti-gentrification graffiti.
Latest in a series
St-Henri, which is part of Montreal's Southwest borough, has traditionally been a low-income area.
Its crowded duplexes and triplexes featured prominently in Gabrielle Roy's novel of working-class Montreal The Tin Flute. It has among the highest concentration of social and community housing units in the city.
But in recent years the neighbourhood has attracted higher-income residents, leading to tensions as longer-term inhabitants have been forced to relocate.
"There are fewer and fewer restaurants and local businesses that are accessible to people with low income," said Shannon Franssen, coordinator of Solidarité St-Henri, a coalition of local community groups.
"People are seeing that change happen very quickly on larger streets like Notre-Dame. And because that change is happening so quickly, it's making people very angry. It makes people feel like they can't shop in their own neighbourhood."
The masked group invoked those tensions in the poster they left on the store's window.
"With the arrival of condos in St-Henri, a multitude of expensive businesses followed, hipster restaurants and bourgeois grocery stores," read one poster pasted to the window of the store.
"May 28, we tried to recalibrate things a bit, to the extent of our means."
The owners of 3734 say their store is committed to local charities, and for the most part only sells locally-produced goods.
And while they acknowledge the concerns about gentrification, they say Saturday's attack took things to another level.
"We have already been the victim of vandalism but never a confrontation like this," the business owners wrote in a Facebook post.
"They are against gentrification of the neighbourhood," the owners added. "I can understand that. The cause yes, the target no, the means even less so."
What to do about gentrification?
Craig Sauvé, city councillor for Projet Montréal in the Southwest borough, said Saturday night's attack was a counter-productive way of dealing with something that is a genuine concern of St-Henri residents.
"There is tension about affordability, that's absolutely true," he said. "That's something we have to work on as a society as a whole. But through violence and intimidation? Nobody in St-Henri wants it that way."
Sauvé, along with groups like Solidarité St-Henri, have called for more federal funding in order to increase supply of affordable housing in the borough.
They are also seeking new zoning rules along Notre-Dame to allow for commercial leases to be rent-controlled.