An online petition to counter the opening of a Starbucks at Marché Jean-Talon has accumulated more than 4000 signatures in less than 24 hours. The petition points out that the multinational coffee chain, which operates more than 20,000 shops worldwide, counters to the mission of Montreal’s Public Market Corporation, which is “to give Montrealers access to local produce at public markets that correspond to their identity.” Furthermore, the petition signatories insist, the coffee chain threatens to devalue the unique landscape of Little Italy, known for it’s many independent cafés and its patchwork of multi-cultural businesses.
But who will hear this cri-de-guerre? The petition is destined to the Rosemont-Petite-Patrie borough mayor and the Corporation des Marchés Publics de Montréal (MPM), yet neither has a say in the matter.
What makes the Jean-Talon market so unique and diverse is the way the public marketplace is surrounded by small businesses that pour out the back-doors of privately-owned buildings along Jean-Talon and Mozart streets. Fruit and veggie stands overflow into the alleyway, flanked by the terraces of independent cafés, tacquerias and saussiseries, and some québecois chains. It is in one of these privately owned buildings, which previously hosted a pizzaria and has a restaurant permit, that the international coffee chain plans to open up shop.
The future coffee-shop will certainly fall within our mental-map of the market, yet it is, in reality, outside of the jurisdiction of the MPM. And while the municipality has tools to create the box, so to speak, by regulating the volume, look, and vocation of a building, the mayor can hardly deny a permit based on the brand of the product being sold…
And would we really want them to have that kind of power? I would argue that makes Jean-Talon market beloved is the seamless blending of public and private spaces, of local and international flavours, of luxury products and dumpster-divers, into messy patchwork that none-the-less feels like a harmonious entity. Show me a municipal project – or any development regulated by a single body – that comes close.
The same conditions that allow diversity to flourish make our urban landscapes vulnerable to outside invaders, in a process much like ecological succession.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t speak out about the collective vision we have for the places we care about, as thousands have done by signing the petition.
Beyond that, we law-abiding citizens may be limited to the most trite of strategies, the ol’ vote with your dollar? Perhaps we can dream of ways to take it further – I would love to see handmade ads that would guide visitors and newbies towards the neighbourhood’s best independent cafés. Perhaps the local businesses or property-owners could form an association that agreed to work towards a common set of values and neighbourhood character. Perhaps there’s another way… what to the readers say?