Kafein owner can’t stay afloat amidst construction

Kafein café-bar owner Gaby Nassar said his landlord is taking over his business. Photo by Kirubel Mehari

Bishop Street businesses have not been compensated for loss of foot traffic

After 15 years as a small business owner and months of decreased foot traffic, Gaby Nassar is losing Kafein, a café-bar popular among students.

“Basically, the landlord is taking over my business. This is happening in a week or two,” Nassar said. “I’m so behind on rent, and he would excuse my debt to him. So that’s where we are now.”

From Nassar’s perspective, the overdue rent payments and outstanding debt are the result of one thing: a 42-month construction project that has dissuaded potential customers from walking along Bishop Street, where his business is located.

As The Concordian previously reported, Bishop Street businesses have been struggling since October 2016, when the Société de transport de Montréal (STM) began construction on a new metro ventilation station that will ensure fresh air for the green line between the Peel and Guy-Concordia stations. The infrastructure project is predicted to finish in 2020, but according to Nassar, things took a turn for the worst as soon as the project began.

“We basically lost 25 per cent [of foot traffic] within the week after the construction, right off the bat. During the school year, students would make the trek, but then in the summer months, we had a 40 per cent decrease [in sales],” Nassar explained.

After the loss in customers jeopardized his rent payments, Nassar, along with a coalition of four other affected Bishop Street businesses, including Ferrari restaurant, Craft Grilled Cheese, Gourmet Burger and Mesa 14, filed a lawsuit in April against the STM and the city of Montreal. They requested compensation of $2,500 per business for every month of construction, free advertising in nearby metro stations, as well as funding to commission an engineering firm to see if the project could be sped up.

Despite the fact that his landlord is taking over Kafein, Nassar will be continuing with the lawsuit. Although a court date has yet to be confirmed, Nassar said he believes it will be at least six months until the trial begins.

Nassar did not lose the business he has operated for years without a fight. He claimed he had been speaking with “high-level [city] officials,” but after the latest update he received from them, he knew he would be unable to support his business financially.

“[The city] is not coming up with a program to help businesses until June or July, and that’s way too far outside my comfort zone. Even then, they’re not 100 per cent sure if I would be included in that program,” Nassar said.

Nassar said he doesn’t know what Kafein’s future will be once his landlord takes over the business. Currently, he is focused on finding some justice through the upcoming lawsuit.

Nassar added that many of the other Bishop Street business owners are struggling as well, to the point where they may soon close or lose their business to landlords. In the case of Craft Grilled Cheese, the owner has already decided to close the restaurant permanently. Ste-Catherine Street businesses may be the next to experience a decrease in customers, as a two-year construction project began in January 2018, according to Global News.

Although attention from tourists and pedestrians decreased as soon as construction on Bishop Street began, Nassar said he is grateful for Kafein’s most devoted customers, including many students.

“We had gotten a lot of support in the last year. People were willing to make the trip, and there were a lot of obstacles,” he said. “It’s too bad. A lot of people tried to help with this; we just couldn’t do it.”

The Concordian reached out to the STM for comment, but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Photo by Kirubel Mehari

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