The changing face of Westmount's Victoria Village

Victoria Village in Westmount has seen a proliferation of retail chains over the past decade.
Westmount's Victoria Village is undergoing a transformation which sees local businesses make way for franchises. (CBC)

Westmount's Victoria Village was once a haven for local, independent businesses but the stretch of Sherbrooke Street between Grovesnor and Claremont avenues is changing. The strip now includes international chains such as Starbucks and American Apparel. 

Krista Leetmaa, an urban planning research assistant with McGill University, looked into the transformation of the neighbourhood and told CBC Montreal's Daybreak that the shift is due to increase in taxes and rent prices. 

Leetmaa completed a study for McGill's Community-University Research Alliances which looks at the concentration of ownership in the village. Over the past decade, Cromwell Management Inc. has bought many of the buildings that make up the neighbourhood.

The company now owns 33 per cent of the properties, including the buildings that house Dairy Queen, shoe store Chou Chou and pet store Bark & Fritz. 

"I think, from what we've heard, there's quite strong evidence that upon lease renewal, the rental rates are going up quite significantly and that is pushing out the smaller businesses that really often struggle to meet payroll and other day-to-day expenses," Leetmaa said. 

"When something significant like a rent increase comes along or a tax increase, they just aren't able to deal with it." 

Shelley Kerman saw her children's clothing store LMNOP close its doors for good on Dec. 31, after 21 years on Sherbrooke Street. She blames an increase in property tax and, subsequently, rent. 

"Big box stores have infiltrated the Canadian retail environment and are giving people far more options of where they can go out and shop and then there's the Internet," she said. 

"This property consumption has converged with a whole lot of other things that are going on as well and it's made it harder and harder as an independent retailer to kind of hold on to what it is we want to do. It makes it not fun anymore." 

Some Westmount residents say they are also unhappy with the way Victoria Village is changing. Longtime resident Antonella Peters says that she prefers to see independent businesses over chain stores because the local stores offer original items. She's not confident, however, that new local businesses will open in the neighbourhood. 

But not all residents dislike the changes. Adrienne Couture, 20, finds the retail chains in the neighbourhood convenient. 

"I think it's easier. (The retail stores) have the same stores downtown, so you can get the same things downtown and good prices. Usually small boutiques will be expensive because it's local," she told Daybreak. 

Cromwell Management declined to comment on the subject.