"Just as we're reopening, we get hit with something that's going to obviously damage our business significantly."
After several years of coronavirus turmoil, things have been getting back to normal at Montreal's bars and restaurants thanks to the easing of pandemic-related restrictions.
Sadly for businesses along rue Notre-Dame, a Montreal construction project is threatening the fragile recovery ahead of terrasse season, says Toby Lyle, co-owner of the Burgundy Lion pub.
"For the first time in two years it started to feel normal," he said. "We were approaching revenue levels from 2019. It looked like we were finally out of this. Our business survived, which it didn't always look like it would."
"And then just as we're reopening, we get hit with something that's going to obviously damage our business significantly," he continued.
As part of a major water pipe rehabilitation program, rue Notre-Dame Ouest will be under construction between Vinet and Charlevoix for 12 weeks starting in early April, according to a March 23 email from the city, which Lyle posted online.
Other restaurants along the one-block stretch include Joe Beef, Liverpool House, Pizzeria Geppetto and September Surf Café.
The project would harm Lyle's business during a crucial time, he said. It would prevent the installation of terrasses until July 1, reduce parking options and, Lyle said, "They're also talking about us losing water sporadically throughout the process, which means we would have to shut down those days."
Jules Chamberland-Lajoie, a spokesperson for the City of Montreal, said that "in this particular case, although the work was to have taken place earlier, it was delayed three times to minimize the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the merchants, in accordance with their request."
"It should be noted that by starting the work early this spring, we hope to facilitate the arrival of the terrasses as soon as possible for July. We will also continue to work closely with the SDC - Les Quartiers du Canal," the local business organization, "in the context of the work on Notre-Dame Street West," she continued.
But Lyle insists there was no proper consultation done before the decision to move ahead with the project was made, and that he only found out about it via email.
"There were requests made by certain [merchants] on the street who are no longer there, but there wasn't really a consensus," he said.
"We were not consulted whatsoever about when we thought this should happen," he continued.
He suggested the city either stagger the work to reduce its impact or reschedule for later in the summer after peak terrasse season, "When it's construction holiday and most Montrealers are away."
Benoit Dorais, mayor of the Sud-Ouest borough, released a Facebook post on the matter, citing a recent pipe rupture and the risk of further delaying work.
"If we wait any longer," he wrote, "the condition of the pipe will be so critical that the entire street will have to be opened up, causing much greater inconvenience and nuisance to everyone."
He said the city will meet with merchants this week.