Montreal offers free parking to boost local holiday shopping during COVID-19 crisis

Click to play video 'Montreal unveils measures to boost local holiday shopping during COVID-19 crisis' Montreal unveils measures to boost local holiday shopping during COVID-19 crisis
WATCH: We’re only nine weeks away from Christmas and normally retailers would be gearing up for a big holiday rush. But this year, many shop owners fear the pandemic, coupled with Montreal’s ongoing roadwork will keep people away. Global’s Tim Sargeant reports, on how the city is planning to attract shoppers back downtown – Oct 22, 2020

With the holiday season and cold weather looming, the City of Montreal is taking extra steps to help merchants and local businesses.

The new measures come as the novel coronavirus health crisis drags on, with public health directives and shutdowns aimed at slowing the spread of the virus continuing to take a toll on the city’s economy.

Mayor Valérie Plante announced the strategy Thursday, saying $6 million is being injected to help businesses for the months of November and December.

“There is no reason not to come and shop on your local streets,” she said, adding that online shopping giants aren’t the organizations that need help.

Read more: Montreal ‘progressing in the right way’ as coronavirus cases start to plateau, officials say

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Under the plan, parking will be free on Saturdays and Sundays from Nov. 14 to Dec. 31. The idea is to attract more customers to the city for their Christmas shopping and encourage Montrealers to buy local.

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“That means 18,000 parking spaces will be available,” said Plante.

Other measures include allowing merchants to extend their store hours during that period. They will be able to stay open until 10 p.m. on weeknights and until 7 p.m. on weekends, but the measure is not mandatory.

“It is to encourage physical distancing and reduce lineups,” said Plante.

Despite the financial help, Plante said the city cannot save businesses on its own and that other governments need to step in. Montrealers can also help by shopping locally during the holiday season, she added.

“This year is actually crucial and some businesses might not survive if we don’t support them,” she said, adding that local shops make up the fabric of the city.

READ MORE: Quebec business owners anxious to know if they can reopen after Oct. 28

The city has estimated that the number of people circulating downtown has dropped by about 90 per cent since the beginning of the pandemic.

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Montreal is currently a designated red zone and remains under a partial lockdown due to the second wave of the pandemic. This includes the forced closure of bars, theatres and gyms to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The region has been a hot spot for the virus, but the city’s public health department said Wednesday that Montreal is on the right track as new cases begin to plateau thanks to tightened controls and efforts from citizens.

While the restrictions are in place until Oct. 28, Quebec’s premier has hinted that some of them could be extended.

“We are also anxious to know what will happen after that date,” said Billy Walsh, president of the Association des sociétés de développement commercial de Montréal.

Click to play video 'New Montreal study to track COVID-19 infection rates among children' New Montreal study to track COVID-19 infection rates among children
New Montreal study to track COVID-19 infection rates among children – Oct 20, 2020

With files from Global News’ Tim Sargeant and the Canadian Press