Montreal businesses, hotels suffer under Quebec's public health restrictions

Business owners are calling for faster aid under the new public health restrictions that include closing bars, restaurant dining rooms, gyms, cinemas and show venues.

New measures include closing bars and restaurant dining rooms, causing an economic ripple effect

Dave Plant opened a café on St-Denis Street in Montreal just before the pandemic hit. Despite his best efforts to keep it afloat, he is throwing in the towel. (Simon Nakonechny/CBC)

Dave Plant opened Café Bonjour/Hi on Montreal's St-Denis Street just four months before the pandemic started.

He spent tens of thousands of dollars renovating the space, tracking down vintage furniture to create the vibe he was looking for.

Since COVID-19 hit, he's been able to keep the shop going through lockdowns and re-openings, but it hasn't been easy.  Now with Omicron on the rise and restrictions closing down his dine-in service yet again, he's had enough.

"It's just a disaster," he said.

He's trying to sell the business:

 "Last year I thought maybe OK, maybe there's a glimmer, tourism could come back," he said. "Now with Omicron, new measures — the government has chosen to do again — strict measures."

Those new measures include closing bars and restaurant dining rooms, adding to the list of businesses that have been shut down by the government such as gyms, cinemas and show venues.

People walked by closed stores in Montreal on Sunday. The Quebec government has closed all but a handful of stores on Sundays for three weeks in January. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Ky Brooks, a sound engineer at Bar le Ritz PBD on Jean-Talon Street West, said the repetitive closing and reopening of businesses leads to an important question.

"Is this a sustainable situation work-wise, to be working in nightlife?" they asked.

Restaurant and bar owners across the province have expressed the same worry — that there will be nobody interested in working in the business anymore because employment is so inconsistent while, at the same time, the labour shortage means there is plenty of work in other sectors of the economy.

Sunday closings hurt some retailers

Now stores, aside from a handful of exceptions, are closed on Sundays for most of the month. 

When Premier François Legault announced that new measure last week, he said it was to give overworked employees a break because the skyrocketing number of COVID-19 cases coupled with the labour shortage, has put a strain on the workforce. 

He said thousands of people are in isolation, forcing their colleagues to work longer hours in a time when businesses are already short staffed.

But some businesses, like the record store La Rama in Montreal's Mile End neighbourhood, get most of their traffic on the weekend.

The store's owner, Kris Guilty, said Legault should have let business owners choose which day they are closed.

"Let me decide which of those days I'd prefer to close, cause I know which one those would be," he said.

A spokesperson for the province's economy minister didn't respond to questions about compensation for stores that have to close on Sundays.

But the spokesperson did say the ministry is talking to restaurant representatives about a compensation program, and will make an announcement before the weekend.

Kris Guilty said the Legault government should have let business owners choose which day they are closed, because Sundays are usually a busy day for his record shop in Montreal. (Simon Nakonechny/CBC)

"Anytime Legault sits there and says money's coming or help is coming, nobody believes him," said Plant.

He said he would like to see the government put together a plan for learning to live with the virus in the long term so people can plan accordingly.

But for him and his café on St-Denis, it's too late.

Hotels take a hit as tourism drops

And while businesses forced to close temporarily are feeling the pinch and people are forced indoors from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. under the province's curfew, the partial economic shutdown has had a ripple effect.

The rules are disrupting local and regional tourism and leading to drastic losses in the hotel industry, according to Jean-Sébastien Boudreault president and CEO of the Association des hôtels du Grand Montréal.

The association is asking for more help from the province before more hotels are forced to close their doors for good.

"The hotels are missing a lot of opportunities," said Boudreault. "The financial aid is not up to the loss of revenue."

Ontario recently initiated a "staycation tax credit"  for Ontarians who plan getaways within the province. It aims to boost local business and save families up to 20 per cent on accommodations.

CBC reached out to the Quebec government to see if it might do the same, but was told it will provide an update later in the week.

"We have said it and we repeat it: We will continue to adapt according to the evolution of the pandemic and health measures," said Mathieu St-Amand, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Economic Development.

with files from Simon Nakonechny and Kwabena Oduro


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