Chinatown business owners say district will die without more government help
Federal and provincial governments say they are doing what they can to support merchants
Its dining room used to be packed at lunchtime, but nowadays Dobe & Andy in Montreal's Chinatown only gets a trickle of take-out customers.
"We really relied on the summertime business, the tourism and also the offices," said co-owner Eric Ku, recalling the days before the COVID-19 pandemic slammed Quebec.
The restaurant has seen a 70 per cent drop in business and it's not alone. A group of merchants from the area is sounding the alarm — saying businesses throughout the historic district are hemorrhaging money.
Empty office buildings and a dead tourism industry are certainly factors, the group says, but anti-Asian racism plays a role as well.
Earlier this week, the Montreal Chinatown Development Council and the Chinese Association of Montreal put out a call for help alongside the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations.
Together, they are asking the federal and provincial governments to contribute $1 million to help save Chinatown.
"Without government financial support, many local businesses may go under permanently, putting the future of Montreal's Chinatown in jeopardy," the group says in a statement.
Former restaurateur Bill Wong says the solution is to create a business development agency.
"The battery is running out," he said.
"We need a recharge. If there's no recharge and no help coming from the government we're in big trouble."
Liberals already helping, minister says
Ministers at the federal and provincial levels say efforts are already being made to save downtown businesses.
Economic Development Minister Mélanie Joly stands with the Chinese community and condemns any racism that "too many Chinese-Canadians have sadly experienced," spokesperson Alexander Cohen said.
Joly has been working with Chinatown business owners, associations and individuals throughout the pandemic, Cohen said.
The Liberal government has put in place a range of programs to assist Canadians across the country with everything from salaries to rent assistance, he said.
The wage subsidy program will be extended to next summer and $30 million has been invested in supporting Montreal businesses that aren't able to access other relief measures.
"We're here for Montreal's Chinese community, and we'll get through this, together," Cohen said.
The Quebec government has also offered a range of programs to support businesses, according to Sarah Bigras, spokesperson for Chantal Rouleau, the province's minister responsible for Montreal.
Bigras said that help includes $20 million in aid and an additional $800,000 to support a partnership with the Quartier des spectacles to offer entertainment and collective spaces downtown — including one in Chinatown.
"We are aware of the challenges facing businesses and we will continue to work with them to revive the economy of the metropolis and downtown," Brigras said.
Among those who have been relying on that government help is Pâtisserie Coco owner Paul Li.
He said government support has helped keep his two-year-old business afloat, but now he worries that the financial assistance will soon run out.
Li encourages people to come out and shop, while wearing a mask and keeping a safe distance.
"Our businesses rely on people coming in and making purchases," he said. "We just need more people coming into town."
Based on a report by Simon Nakonechny