Protesters gather in Mile End for read-in at S.W. Welch Bookseller

The pandemic has not deterred community mobilization against gentrification in Mile End

Protesters gathered outside S.W. Welch Bookseller to denounce the gentrification running rampant in the Mile End. Photo Léa Beaulieu-Kratchanov

Montrealers lined up outside S.W. Welch Bookseller in the Mile End on March 13 to participate in a read-in after commercial landlord Shiller Lavy Realties attempted to raise the store’s rent by 150 per cent, which would have forced it to close.

The bookstore successfully avoided the rent increase for now following public outcry, but the future of small businesses in the neighbourhood remains in question. 

The protest was named “Does anybody buy books today?” in reference to co-owner Danny Lavy shifting blame away from Shiller Lavy Realties for increasing the rent when speaking to the Montreal Gazette. The company has since backed down from their initial attempt to increase rent for the bookstore and agreed to a two-year lease extension at a reduced rate. 

On the Mile End Assemble Facebook page, the group refers to Danny Lavy as a “parasitic developer.” The community organization claims Lavy is attempting to rob them of their neighbourhood.

“I am here in solidarity with those most vulnerable to the crushing economic reality that is changing the pace of our neighbourhood far too rapidly,” said Patricia Bouschel, an organizer from Mile End Ensemble told The Link.

“It’s more than a bookstore to me. It represents the culture of the Mile End.” — Ashley Opheim

Bouschel explained Mile End Ensemble’s original goal was to protest against the attempted rent increase. “Since then, he has caved because of the public pressure,” she added. 

According to Bouschel the problem is greater than what happened to S.W. Welch Bookseller. She told The Link that Mile End Ensemble wants better rent control in general, for both tenants in residential spaces and commercial spaces like S.W. Welch Bookseller. 

To Bouschel, the way real estate companies are manipulating rent for commercial spaces has an impact on property value and tenant’s security in the Mile End neighbourhood.

“It’s more than a bookstore to me. It represents the culture of the Mile End,” said Ashley Opheim, member of Mile End Ensemble and Concordia alumna. Opheim decided to participate in the community organization because she was seeing the Mile End being “taken away from the people” and becoming more corporate.

She has lived in the Mile End for 12 years and was particularly upset about what happened to S.W. Welch Bookseller because it was the first place she went to when she moved here, and she met a lot of amazing people through the space. 

Trevor Kjorlien is a member of Mile End Ensemble, and got involved in the community organization because when he moved into the neighbourhood 12 years ago he was able to find affordable rent and meet his basic needs. He said this was being threatened by landlords like Shiller Lavy and wanted to organize and preserve the neighbourhood he has come to call home. 

“It hurts me personally,” Kjorlien said. “It hurts Montreal as a city. This is one of the coolest, most interesting neighbourhoods in North America.”