The “read-in” protest organized by the Mile End Ensemble as an expression of support for the storied Montreal neighbourhood went off successfully on Saturday, with a socially distanced crowd organizing outside the front door of used bookseller S.W. Welch and stretching along Saint-Viateur Street.
The action was precipitated by the potential ouster of the bookseller from the neighbourhood as a result of the store’s landlord, Shiller Lavy Realties, demanding an almost 150% hike in rent. Reeling from a swirl of public protest and negative media coverage, Shiller Lavy co-owner Danny Lavy re-opened negotiations with shop proprietor Stephen Welch, resulting in a deal that will allow the bookstore to remain in Mile End for the next two years. In a Facebook post on Monday, March 8, Welch wrote that he “went up a little” and Lavy “went down a lot.”
According to the Montreal Gazette, the pair negotiated a two-year lease at $2,750 per month, a monthly increase of $750 above what Welch had been paying.
Lavy is quoted as saying, “I want him [Welch] to be happy. That’s my number one most important thing.”
The comment is a far cry from his earlier stance, which found him asking, “Does anybody buy books today?”
It was that comment, as much as anything, that sparked Saturday’s protest, which served as a victory celebration and a show of support for Welch, who plans to retire when the two-year lease runs out. It was also an opportunity for Montrealers who care about the unique character of Mile End to come together in opposition to what they perceive as a predatory policy of rent evictions and gentrification that is increasingly pricing artists and small businesses out of the very neighbourhood they helped to put on the map.
One of the people at the event was Québec solidaire MNA Ruba Ghazal, who told the Montreal Gazette that it is important to support local businesses who create interest in an area by building character: “I want to stand with them and put pressure on the government to do something.”
As for the Mile End Ensemble, the group’s Facebook page makes clear their belief that the reprieve for S.W. Welch “was a direct result of community organizing.” So, notwithstanding Lavy’s assertion that “[t]he whole thing is ridiculous,” it doesn’t look like the grassroots community activists are going anywhere any time soon.