'I can't see us surviving': Bishop Street merchants face over 3 years of construction

Merchants on Bishop Street say they won't be able to stay open for much longer as the STM builds a new mechanical ventilation station. It will take over three years to complete the work.

Work to build new mechanical ventilation station for the Metro will take 42 months to complete

Mike Cloghesy, co-owner and manager of Mesa 14 on Bishop Street is one of the restaurateurs suing the city for lost business. (Simon Nakonechny/CBC)

Ask Elio Schiavi how business is doing at his Bishop Street restaurant these days and he might get a little bit choked up.

"Some nights, not one person inside, swear to God," said Schiavi, fighting back tears. "I don't know if I can last until May or June."

For more than 35 years, Schiavi has been the owner of Restaurant Ferrari on Bishop near the corner of Ste-Catherine Street.

His restaurant, along with nine other businesses, are now in the middle of a construction zone as the STM builds a new mechanical ventilation station to serve the nearby Guy-Concordia Metro station.

The STM says the work on Bishop Street will take 42 months to complete. (Simon Nakonechny/CBC)

Schiavi said that the work, which began in October and is supposed to last 3.5 years, has already cost him between 30 and 50 per cent of his business. He's also been forced to slash wages for his long-time employees to keep the doors open.

"Nobody can see me," he said of the construction zone that has taken away parking and partially closed the sidewalk on the east side of the street.

Two of Schiavi's neighbours have already moved away to get out of the construction zone. But that's not an option he's able to consider.

"I'm 73 years old, I'm broke and my paycheque is here," said Schiavi.

Over 3 years of work

Normally it would take between two and three years to build a new mechanical ventilation station, but the construction work on Bishop Street will take longer.

In an email, STM spokeswoman Amélie Régis said the bedrock below the new station is weak and they will need to take certain security measures, which explains the 42-month timeline.

The STM says the work is necessary because the existing station on de la Montagne Street has reached the end of its service life and must be replaced.

The stations allow the STM to control temperature in the metro, supply fresh air for transit users and, in emergencies, allow for ventilation of smoke or access for emergency workers.

Elio Schiavi, owner of Restaurant Ferrari, is considering pursuing the STM in court for lost revenues. (Simon Nakonechny/CBC)

Mike Cloghesy, the co-owner and manager of Mexican restaurant Mesa 14 on Bishop, said he does not understand how the STM thought businesses could continue to operate given the length of the work.

"It's not realistic to think a business can survive in this climate with this fence," said Cloghesy.

"I can't see us surviving."

He added that he has thought about moving from his location on Bishop, but can't because he would not be able to afford to break his lease.

Schiavi said he's approached the STM with different ideas to bring people back to the street, such as an ice sculpture competition or sidewalk painting in the summer time.

He said all the transit agency has done so far is put up a small sign near the Metro station telling passersby the businesses are open.

Legal action for lost revenue?

When asked about helping promote merchants in the area, Régis said more signs are on their way.

On its website, the STM says that businesses are still open. However, the English message includes a typo – the word "please" is misspelt. (The typo was fixed following the publication of this article).

The message on the STM's website inviting people to shop on Bishop Street. (CBC)

Cloghesy believes the STM did not put much effort into it.

"It was obviously thrown together, maybe some bad translation. It's hurtful," he said.

For the time being, Schiavi hopes that he'll be able to attract some clients with a new special student menu.

He said he's also looking at legal options, including pursuing the STM in court for lost revenue.

"You're always thinking, thinking about what to do next," said Schaivi.

With files from Simon Nakonechny