The threat of vandalism looms large over Saint-Henri-based merchants on Notre-Dame Ouest, particularly between Saint-Ferdinand and de Courcelle. Late last week another business on the Sud-Ouest commercial strip, popular bring-your-own-wine bistro Le Smoking Vallée, was defaced. Owned by Marc-André Paradis, George Blais, and Thierry Dufour, the restaurant at 4370 Notre-Dame Ouest was tagged in red spray paint on Friday with an anti-gentrification message. Translated, the scrawl read: "Expensive food = expensive rents."
"We're kinda lucky. This was the first time in almost four years that we've been in the neighbourhood. I knew this was going to happen someday though. No big deal, just a waste of time and money. We'd rather be in the kitchen making food than taking care of this kind of problem! We just hope this doesn't become a regular thing," Le Smoking Vallée's management shared today.
Some of the vandalism attacks have had anti-gentrification overtones in the past, though area merchants, understandably, have been loath to characterize them as anything but criminal acts. Sud-Ouest borough mayor Benoit Dorais told Le Journal de Montréal last April that more than 50% of Saint-Henri residents live below the poverty line. "So yes, there are people who find the arrival of wealthier people difficult to handle," Dorais explained to a reporter.
By Friday afternoon, Le Smoking Vallée's graffiti was cleaned up. It's probably just a matter of time, however, before another merchant on the street is targeted. Tacos Victor was robbed just a few weeks ago. Campanelli café and apparel shop, a frequent victim, was hit with a paint bomb just before Christmas. Last May, a group of hooded, masked vandals defaced Campanelli, Juicyyy Lab juice bar, Notorious Barbershop, and other merchants.
To some prominent Saint-Henri restaurateurs, most notably the Bloom brothers, who collectively co-own successful businesses like Tuck Shop, Tejano BBQ Burrito, Rustique Bakery, and Sumac, gentrification is a touchy subject. "I live in the neighbourhood as well, so I see both sides of the coin," Sumac's David Bloom told the CBC last April. "There's always going to be certain groups who don't want it to change, or who don't want it to change in a certain way. And that's a hard fight. I think this is an amazing neighbourhood, it's got a lot of tangibles—the canal, the market, the proximity to downtown—so it was only a matter of time before something happened."
Tuck Shop partner Jon Bloom told the news outlet that he's not trying to gentrify anything. "[I]t's really a game with the landlords, not so much the businesses. The landlords see one person getting some attention, getting customers, so they have this vision that it's possible for all their locations, that this is what the neighbourhood needs. And they start driving rents up." Ryan Bloom (Tejano, Rustique, Urban Bonfire), put it more succinctly. "The idea of the neighbourhood changing is scary for people."