Old Montreal is usually buzzing with tourists this time of year.
But due to the coronavirus pandemic, the foot traffic from visitors is non-existent.
Tourist shops and souvenir stores are feeling these effects.
“Our business is almost 99 per cent down. We cannot say 100 per cent because sometimes when we open the store we have $100, $200, $300,” says Alok Srivastava, a salesperson at Bastix Souvenirs, who says the store has let go four-five employees.
Sanjay Verma, who owns Boutique Legende, a family-owned store that has been in operation for over 30 years, said he would like to see borders open to boost the tourism industry.
“I mean, a lot of people, when they talk about the international borders, I noticed they say, ‘we don’t want to open the borders’, and so forth. I understand their point of view, but they have to understand our livelihoods are at stake, we have families to support, we have expenses to take care of,” Verma said.
Due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Quebec lost approximately 450,000 jobs in about four months, from March to June, compared to the same period in 2019.
The Institut de la statistique du Québec said this is a drop of about 10 per cent in the total volume of employment, which amounted, on average, to about 4.33 million jobs from March to June of last year.
From March to June 2020, just over 365,000 jobs were lost in the service industry. The institute estimates that the accommodation and food services industry has seen a decline of nearly 100,000 jobs, while in wholesale and retail trade, the loss of jobs would be around 75,000.
Business owners in Old Montreal are all falling victims to layoffs, Verma said.
“We go days with no sales and I had to lay off 12 employees as a result of this and they have been contacting me (to see) if they can come back. I have no idea when I can call them back.”
Katia Ohayon, owner of Chaussure Sandrini, is in the same position.
“Obviously, we faced a lot of struggles such as laying off a lot of people temporarily because we usually have four, five people in here,” Ohayon said.
Chaussure Sandrini is a family business that has been around for 42 years.
During their two-month closure, they tried to get creative to stay in touch with their clientele.
“We took advantage of the time off to launch our e-com platform very well. Although it hasn’t been crazy busy online, it has helped us to get more exposure,” Ohayon said.
Ohayon said she wants to keep the family legacy running.
“We are still going to fight, we are here to stay — there’s no option in closing.”
With the lack of tourists visiting Old Montreal, Verma fears he will be forced to close before the end of the year unless governments can offer more financial assistance.
“Our businesses will eventually close the doors, if this continues any longer. There’s a six-month window for most souvenir shops,” Verma said.