Montreal record shops blame 'archaic' rule dating back to 1970s for lost sales

Mile End record shops appealed to city officials after they were fined thousands of dollars for being open after 5 p.m. on a Saturday, and Montreal now plans to exempt them from store-hours regulations. But some shop owners say it's not a clear victory.

Phonopolis co-owner is glad city plans to allow longer opening hours, but he's still stuck with hefty fines

Phonopolis shop owner explains how strict rules on opening hours hurt sales

3 years ago
Duration 2:09
Montreal record shops no longer have to keep hours according to regulation dating back to 1970s

On an average Saturday in Mile End, customers start trickling into Phonopolis record stores late in the morning or in the early afternoon.

Co-owner Nick Kirschner said the shop's peak hours are usually late afternoon, and people will happily shop into the evening. That's why he was surprised to learn about an old rule on the books that forbids him from staying open past 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. 

It was on record store day — of all days — in April 2019 that an inspector walked into Phonopolis and informed staff of the rules governing opening hours. 

Kirschner later received $2,950 worth of fines in the mail. 

He​​​​​​​ said running a small business in Montreal is difficult enough, especially in a neighbourhood where high rents are driving out many commercial tenants.

"These fines that we received for being open too late ... are just an example of an endless list of issues that we deal with every day, which inhibit us from keeping our business afloat," he said. 

"We don't want to be seen as activists or complainers or who knows what else, but we are at a point where we have to talk about what's going on, and we need to ask for help."

Phonopolis joined several other record stores in pushing back against the regulation. 

Customers love browsing through Phonopolis's record stacks until late in the evening, but the shop's owners have had to close at 5 p.m. on weekends since learning that the law prohibits them from staying open after that hour. (Jaela Bernstien/CBC)

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante heard them out, recently tweeting that her administration plans to extend record shops' hours this spring. 

That's good news for Kirschner​​​​​​​​​​​​​​, but he's not celebrating quite yet because as far as he knows, he's still on the hook for the fines. 

"We don't have that money, and there's no reasonable way for us to come up with it," he said. 

Kirschner​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ said his shop and many others are more than traditional retail stores. They're cultural hubs which governments should be working to support and not punish.

He said he's committed to keeping the store open, but there is still a lot of uncertainty about its future.