‘Amazon doesn’t need our money, but our local merchants do,’ Plante says


Doing Christmas shopping at Quebec stores is a way to show solidarity, the Montreal mayor says.

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Mayor Valérie Plante is urging Montrealers to support local businesses rather than lining the pockets of web giants like Amazon.

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“My message today is to tell everyone to come out and encourage their local merchants as a great number of us did last year,” she said at the weekly executive committee meeting Wednesday.

“Amazon doesn’t need our money, but our local merchants do,” she said.

“It’s also way of showing resilience and solidarity to do our Christmas shopping at Quebec stores,” the mayor added. “Going to (local) businesses does them good. They’re happy to see us. It makes a big difference to their sales revenues.”

Café Vasco da Gama was as good a place as any Wednesday to witness the short-term effects of Quebec’s latest pandemic-related restrictions on the downtown core.

“I dropped by this morning and there wasn’t a single client inside,” Sandra Ferreira, whose family-owned company operates the normally bustling Peel St. café, told the Montreal Gazette. “Yesterday at the same time, the place was pretty much full. We’re completely discouraged.”

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Quebec also announced it had suspended a return-to-work order for public servants that had been put in place a month ago. Full-time remote work will apply for civil servants “until recommended otherwise,” the government said.

The announcements had an immediate impact on business at Groupe Ferreira. Several corporate customers called to cancel reservations, including one that had booked a private room over multiple days for a series of small Christmas parties.

“This is catastrophic,” said Sandra Ferreira, head of operations at the restaurant company. “There’s one week left before people went away for the holidays, and it was going to be a very busy one for us. We just received our SAQ order for the week, our fridges are full and now this happens. We hadn’t seen this coming. Now we’re going to have to make cuts.”

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An influential employer group says the government had to act in the face of a worsening health situation.

“We can only understand the decision. The upward trend for cases and hospitalizations is clear,” said Karl Blackburn, head of the Conseil du Patronat du Québec.

Rapid testing kits should be rolled out to workplaces so that companies can start administering tests to their employees, said Blackburn.

Quebec’s latest round of health measures comes at a tricky time for many companies. Forty-five per cent of Quebec’s small businesses have managed to reach their pre-pandemic revenue level as of November, according to a recent member poll released by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. The proportion in Montreal is even smaller, at 35 per cent.

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“We’re worried,” said François Vincent, CFIB’s vice president for Quebec. “Small businesses are still extremely fragile, and those that are located in urban centres have been hit particularly hard. A fifth wave of cases is only going to increase the uncertainty for entrepreneurs.”

With 2,386 new COVID-19 cases and four deaths reported Wednesday, Plante implored citizens to become fully vaccinated if they are not already. In addition to protecting their health and that of others, it’s a way of helping downtown’s recovery, she said.

The city is implementing several initiatives to help downtown businesses, including a $125,000 contract for programming on Ste-Catherine St. that will feature giant nutcrackers, she said.

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Plante reminded shoppers that downtown parking is free during weekends and weekday evenings until Jan. 2, although she also encouraged people to use public transit.

Montreal’s budget for 2022, which will be tabled Dec. 22, will also contain a number of measures to boost downtown recovery, she added.

Almost two years into the pandemic, indebtedness is an issue for many businesses. Quebec’s restaurants have an average debt of $206,944, CFIB data shows. For small retailers, the debt stands at $93,544.

“It’s a lot easier to encourage people to buy their holiday gifts locally when they can leave their downtown office at lunchtime to do that,” Vincent said. “If they have to leave their home office in the suburbs to come downtown, it’s not as simple.”

mscott@postmedia.com

ftomesco@postmedia.com

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