Merchants in Pierrefonds-Roxboro have not had the best of luck in recent years.
Heba Abouselima, owner of Le Canal restaurant, was hit by historic spring flooding in 2017 and 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic struck this year.
“It was a miracle that we were able to open again,” she said. “I lost everything, absolutely everything.”
After the months-long closures due to the pandemic, however, her family-owned business has picked up thanks to the support of the West Island community and Pierrefonds-Roxboro Borough Mayor Jim Beis.
“Everybody is supporting each other and that’s what’s making the whole community survive,” she said. “Mayor Jim Beis is doing a great job of promoting local businesses.”
“You can’t go through these types of situations and not feel for our neighbours and for folks that we’ve never met before,” said Beis.
Throughout the pandemic, Beis has supported his borough’s local businesses by promoting them on social media, advising the owners of all aid programs available and having an in-house employee visit the business. He also works closely with PME MTL West Island, which assists small-and medium-sized businesses through coaching, training and financing.
“To this day we’ve granted close to $4 million in financial support to about 100 businesses in the West Island,” said Nicolas Roy, PME MTL West Island’s executive director.
In partnership with the Quebec government and the city of Montreal, PME MTL West-Island manages programs, such as the Emergency Assistance to Small and Medium-Sized Businesses, which provides business owners a loan of up to $50,000 that is repayable over a three-to-five year period with an interest rate of three per cent.
It also offers the Retail Business Consolidation Fund, which can grant $10,000 to businesses that need to change their environment in order to operate during the pandemic, such as moving their businesses online.
“These funds are available to all West Island businesses, including the businesses in the Pierrefonds-Roxboro borough,” said Roy.
To date, PME MTL West Island has granted $300,000 in financial support to merchants in the borough, he added.
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One of the local businesses currently receiving support is Crystal Dreams, a shop that supplies natural crystals and gemstones internationally. It has multiple locations in Montreal, including a spot in Pierrefonds.
“Even to this day (the programs) are still helping us a lot,” said Santiago Hul, co-owner of Crystal Dreams.
The helping hand allowed the shop to relocate online and cover expenses related to COVID-19, such as costs spent on hand sanitizer, boxes for online orders, and advertisement for the website.
“Things are starting to get much, much better,” said Hul. “Of course there’s a long way ahead before we can go back to normal.”
Tough times for shop owners, charities
“We’re not doing well,” said Nik Bakhshalian, co-owner of Gamerz Café, a family friendly board game café in Pierrefonds. “If the government aid ends before things go back to normal then I don’t know if we will be able to survive.”
Though COVID-19 affected Gamerz Café financially, Bakhshalian considers himself lucky to not have been touched by the 2017 and 2019 floods.
“We have a lot invested in here, we don’t want to just lose it.”
The pandemic has also hit charitable organization, On Rock. It helps families and provides food to those in need.
“We rely on fundraisers…to keep us going and obviously with COVID all our fundraisers have been cancelled,” said president Kim Reid. “(The number of families we are feeding now) have increased by at least 35 per cent, and in order to feed more people it takes more money.”
Reid said that the borough has granted On Rock over $8,000 to help weather the pandemic. The food bank will also open a thrift shop called “Thriftit” in order to bring in more money.
“We have been thinking about opening a thrift shop for a couple of years now,” said Reid. “The fact that our revenue was dwindling just gave us the added push to say ‘Let’s give it a shot now.’”
Beis, who sat on the On Rock board for several years before becoming mayor, said the pandemic has put a strain on all kinds of citizens.
“These types of organizations that provide basic services have definitely seen an increase or an influx of folks that would never, under normal circumstances, require these types of services,” he said.
Community pulls together during hard times
“We were the only building on that street (Boulevard Gouin) that was not flooded,” said Marie Louise Hudon, owner of Adorable Animal, a Pierrefonds grooming studio for cats and dogs since 1992. “But the whole street was completely closed so it affected us because nobody could get to us.”
Hudon explains that the community pulled together to help one another during those times, even during COVID-19.
“It was crazy, we were going in at 7 a.m. leaving at 8 o’clock at night,” said Hudon, explaining how she accommodated customers after the months-long closures due to the pandemic. “People were trying to be supportive of local businesses, which was really nice.”
Dean Dragon is the owner of Mécanique Dragon, an auto shop in Pierrefonds. He said he has been supported by the community.
“There are a lot of beautiful people out there,” he said, adding customers have called to check in during the COVID-19 health crisis.
Dean explains that he received the same support by the community when hit by the 2017 flood.
“I ended up having to downsize because of (the flood),” he said. “I rent a spot from another garage now.”
Abouselima said she that she too experiences support from the community and the borough.
“I want to thank all the community members of Pierrefonds, of West Island in general,” she said.
“As a human being I have pain for everyone who has suffered and is suffering through this pandemic,” said Beis. “We are going to stick together and try to provide the necessary support to our community in the best way we know.”