Le Boulevard shopping centre closing to make way for Montreal's Blue line extension
The STM expropriated the Saint-Léonard mall for the project
Wan Hyun Kim has been running a shoe repair shop in Saint-Léonard's Le Boulevard shopping centre for 32 years but all that hard work will come to an end soon when the mall closes to make way for the Metro's Blue line extension.
Learning the mall was closing was a shock to everybody, he said.
"We don't know what they're going to do," Hyun Kim said. "What they told me is find a new place, but close to this area it's not easy. Even me, I think about it every day but it's too much stress. I don't know what I'm going to do."
Le Boulevard opened in Saint-Léonard 70 years ago, serving generations of shoppers there to pick up groceries, buy a lawnmower or replenish their wardrobe.
But those shoppers will have to head elsewhere starting next fall, as the mall, located at the corner of Jean-Talon Street and Pie-IX Boulevard, was purchased by the Société de transport de Montréal (STM) as part of an expropriation deal with the building's owner.
Only part of the lot Le Boulevard sits on was needed to construct the new station but the mall's owners, Crofton Moore, took the province before an administrative tribunal and forced it to expropriate it all.
In an interview with Radio-Canada, STM board chair Philippe Schnobb said that the owners felt they would lose too much money if the STM took just a chunk of the parking lot.
Ultimately the deal ended up costing the transit authority more than double what it had planned.
Schnobb said they budgeted $50 million to acquire the land but ended up having to spend $115 million.
He added that it will be up to the tribunal to decide how much compensation will have to be paid to the commercial renters who are losing their locations.
To offset the costs, Mayor Valérie Plante's administration is proposing to sell the rest of the property.
Owner says merchants will slowly vacate
According to Crofton Moore's website, Le Boulevard was built in 1952. Its 400,000 square feet currently accommodate 70 tenants, including Metro, Canadian Tire, Jean Coutu, Ardene, Dollarama and the Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ).
Its parking lot can accommodate 1,400 cars.
In a post to Le Boulevard's Facebook page, Crofton Moore confirms the mall is closing "after so many years and many beautiful memories accumulated with you."
The post encourages customers to take advantage of sales in the coming months as merchants gradually move out but also warns people to check that the shop they seek is still open before making the trip to the mall.
Business owners say they've been told November will be their last month.
For many locals, the mall is a place rich with memories. Faced with the closure, some say it's about more than just losing stores or services, it's about losing a piece of neighbourhood history.
"It breaks my heart that it's gonna close down in December," said customer Anna Farias.
Disappointment for residents, MP says
Soraya Martinez Ferrada, MP for the Hochelaga riding, said she was surprised to find out about the mall's closure, as were many of her constituents.
Many people walk to the mall, she said. Her own family has history there, as her grandfather worked as a butcher at Steinberg when the grocery store chain had a location there.
"I really have a family history at mall," she said, recounting her own experiences visiting the shopping centre over the years.
Ferrada said the federal government worked hard to ensure the Blue line could be extended and the hope was that there would be a convenient Metro station next to the shopping centre.
The decision to close the entire mall is disappointing for residents and merchants alike, she said.
She said the land could be put to good use with local merchants and housing.
Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel MP Patricia Lattanzio said she will be evaluating the situation "to make sure that out of this, there's something positive."
With files from CBC's Simon Nakonechny