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Montreal restaurants struggling to survive in COVID-19 era

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WATCH: COVID-19 is eating away at local businesses in Montreal that just can't keep going when so much of their revenue has disappeared. Global's Amanda Jelowicki reports. – Aug 7, 2020

After nine years running his popular Old Montreal lunch spot Pave Lunch Experts, owner Matthew Schnarch made the difficult decision to close his doors, blaming the COVID-19 pandemic for ruining his business.

“It’s really sad. I think in the future, places like mine, the small, local … shop, they will disappear,” he said on the last day his restaurant was open.

“From a business standpoint, it’s a no brainer. It’s unsustainable.”

Schnarch’s restaurant was only open during the day. He said with tourists and jammed office towers in the area, he used to feed up to 100 people per day. Since he reopened at the of June, he often saw only a dozen patrons a day.

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“It’s been anywhere from quiet to horrendously quiet in the days since I reopened,” he said. “Old Montreal is a ghost town.”

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Restaurants and bars are complaining about the lack of business since they were allowed to reopen in Montreal on June 22. Restaurants must maintain social distancing of two metres per table. For many, this has cut their capacity in half. With tourists not around this summer and many people avoiding restaurants, businesses are suffering.

The restaurant industry is calling on the government to reduce social distancing requirements to one metre from two, which would increase capacity for most restaurants. It also wants the government to hand over cash to restaurants so they can continue to survive.

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“If there are less restrictions, it will be better for us,” said Dominique Tremblay, a spokesman for Quebec’s Restaurant Association. “But we understand there have to be some rules in place. What would help is to have direct help from the government, not subsidies that have to be repaid. Restaurants can’t take it anymore.”

The industry estimates up to 60 per cent of establishments may close by next year.

Restaurant owners like Benoit Dessureault complain people just aren’t showing up to eat or drink.

“We function about 15 per cent of our capacity. We lost more than 75 per cent of our sales,” said the Chez Delmo owner.

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The Old Montreal restaurant first opened in 1935. Dessureault poured his life savings into the restaurant he owns with a partner. He’s hopeful things will turn around, but he’s also realistic.

“It’s possible that this restaurant that has been around for 85 years, it’s possible it’s on its last year,” he said.

And with the fall — and flu season — around the corner, restaurants fear the closures happening now are only the beginning.

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