Mile End Ensemble

Photos by Evan Lindsay

Mile End Ensemble mobilized for a glorious event in support of S.W. Welch

“I knew people liked my store, but it’s been really overwhelming.”

Mile End Ensemble hosted a “Read-In” on Saturday to show support for S.W. Welch, a long established bookstore on St-Viateur in Montreal. The event was a response to the store’s landlord Dan Lavy asking, “Does anyone buy books today anyways?” Shiller-Lavy realtors own many buildings in the neighbourhood along with the one that has housed S.W. Welch since 2007 (225 St-Viateur), when the store relocated from St-Laurent Blvd.

The answer to Lavy’s question was a resounding “yes.” St-Viateur was flooded with new and old fans coming out to support S.W. Welch on Saturday afternoon. The line was nearly three blocks long and with the store’s capacity of eight people at a time, some stood in line for hours to support the store. 

“I didn’t really expect it,” said store owner Stephen Welch. “I knew people liked my store, but it’s been really overwhelming. It’s been fantastic, really fantastic.”

Mile End Ensemble
Jessica Morais in line at the read-in

The group Mile End Ensemble invited supporters to bring books to read while waiting in line. Volunteers managed the line and spoke to supporters about gentrification. They also handed out buttons and  bookmarks and asked supporters to fill out a survey to gain feedback on how they could further support the Mile End community. The SPVM even blocked off traffic in the area to open up the street for pedestrians. 

“We’re here as concerned citizens. With what’s been going on specifically in the Mile End and all over Montreal, we’re worried that this neighbourhood is becoming too corporate and too expensive for people to live in and stay in. We are worried about the business and all the tenants who are at risk of being evicted. We’re here to show support for S.W. Welch but we’re also here to talk about what’s going on,”  said Mile End Ensemble member Ashley Opheim.

A video of the three-block line-up on St-Viateur

Groupe de recherche et d’antigentrification du Cœur-de-l’île was another group present at the event, and were handing out pamphlets on the history of gentrification in Mile End. 

Gentrification and rent increases aren’t anything new to the neighbourhood specifically or Montreal in general. Many Mile End businesses have been subject to rent increases and have had to close. Unfortunately, they don’t all get the same community support. 

“I have been living in the neighbourhood for 10 years and it’s always been my favourite bookstore. I was really shocked and frustrated when I heard about the rent increase,” said local resident Marie-Claude Dussault. “There’s a pastry shop that used to be [here] and there was a French bookstore that closed in 2014 [or] 2015, a pizza place on the corner of Clark closed at the start of the pandemic. It’s [because of] gentrification and commercial landlords that buy all the buildings and drive prices up.”

Many residents that attended the event were happy to come out and show support it, but were disheartened that it was necessary in the first place.

“I’m here because I worked and lived in the Mile End and I love it and parts of it are disappearing and that’s kind of natural in cities with gentrification,” said Montrealer Jessica Morais. “S.W. Welch’s bookstore is one that I’ve really enjoyed, myself. It’s one of the few gems of the Mile End that hasn’t yet been closed and turned into a store that’s selling high end products — that’s not what this neighbourhood is about.” 

Read-in organized by Mile End Ensemble

There is a lot of optimism that the event will inspire people in Mile End and throughout Montreal to go out and support other small businesses in their neighbourhoods. 

“You can write to the mayor [or] the city councillors in whatever borough you live in,” said Saelan Twerdy, a Mile End resident who works at nearby bookstore Drawn & Quarterly.  “Beyond that I think it’s great that people are spreading awareness of the problem. There is a lot the city could do to protect tenants and small businesses.”

S.W. Welch was able to renegotiate the rent hike from the previously proposed increase of 150%. The new lease will allow the store to remain in business for the next two years, after which Welch has said he will retire. However, rent hikes and gentrification are still a problem that a lot of small businesses will continue to face in Montreal.

For more about Mile End Ensemble, please visit their website.

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