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Anti-gentrification Montrealers rob store of thousands of dollars worth of goods

Co-owner Maxime Tremblay is seen in his grocery store, Monday, May 30, 2016 in Montreal. The shop was attacked by some thirty people moments before closing Saturday night to denounce the gentrification of the working class neighbourhood. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
May 30, 2016 - 3:29 PM

MONTREAL - The co-owner of a boutique grocery store in a gritty Montreal neighbourhood which was robbed by mask-wearing protesters in a smash-and-grab raid says they were misguided in their actions.

About 30 people clad in black clothing stormed the premises on the weekend, stole thousands of dollars worth of goods and stuck anti-gentrification stickers on the windows.

The group fled before police arrived, throwing objects at the store front and at nearby cars. As of Monday afternoon, no arrests had been made.

At the time, only a young female employee was in the store, which is called simply 3734 and is located in the west-end neighbourhood of Saint-Henri.

"They terrified a girl who works so hard and who hasn't always had the easiest life," co-owner Maxime Tremblay said in an interview.

"I don't see how that's going to help spread their message."

Tremblay said it didn't make sense for protesters to target 3734 as he and his co-owner don't own the building.

He insists the small business is involved in the community, buys and sells lots of local products, keeps the neighbourhood's needs in mind and offers affordable as well as luxury goods.

Gentrification has been a heated topic in Saint-Henri for years. Multiple shops on the same street as 3734 were targeted in a similar fashion a year ago.

According to Shannon Franssen, the co-ordinator of local organization Solidarite Saint-Henri, gentrification has become particularly problematic now that it is affecting an area that has historically been very poor.

"A lot of locals don't recognize their neighbourhood, they don't feel at home anymore," she said.

Many people have been forced to move because of increased rent prices and the explosion in the number of condo developments, said Franssen, adding that 40 per cent of residents in the area have low incomes.

She says some solutions include reserving land for social housing and working with local businesses and residents.

Borough councillor Craig Sauve called the attack "absolutely deplorable."

"Nobody in Saint-Henri condones this type of action," said Sauve.

"I spoke to people all over the neighbourhood — residents, merchants, people in the community sector — and nobody thinks this is an acceptable action."

He said the borough is pressing Ottawa to invest in affordable accommodation and is asking the provincial government to reverse budgetary cuts to social housing.

City zoning laws make it very difficult to stop condo developers from building, said Sauve, but the borough is doing what it can and plans to buy land to guarantee more social housing.

Tremblay, meanwhile, says he has no intention of moving, even though it's not the first time 3734 has been vandalized. The store was previously targeted by graffiti artists and had glue inserted into its lock.

"We chose this neighbourhood and we're comfortable with the people here," he said. "I think if we talk to each other, we can figure out how to live together."

News from © The Canadian Press, 2016
The Canadian Press

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