O n February 25, when a photo of a For Rent sign in the window of S. W. Welch was posted on Twitter, shock spread across social media. The used bookstore, owned by Stephen Welch, had been a mainstay of Montreal’s Mile End since it relocated there, in 2007. A few years ago, a real estate firm bought Welch’s building. As Welch approached the end of his lease, which was to expire in August, his new landlord told him that the store’s monthly costs—rent, taxes, insurance, and maintenance—would go up an impossible 150 percent, to $5,000 a month. “I think they’d rather [the building] be empty than have me here,” the sixty-eight-year-old bookseller told Cult MTL.
For Mile Enders, it was no surprise who was behind the shop’s ouster: Shiller Lavy. No other developer is name-checked as often in the city’s anti-gentrification graffiti; no other seems to have inspired a satirical Twitter account (called, appropriately enough, “Shitter La Vie”). Composed of Stephen Shiller and Danny Lavy, the duo is, as one activist put it to me, the “comic book villains” of Montreal real estate, notorious for buying property, hiking rents, and shoving out long-term tenants.
The centre of Montreal’s creative culture, Mile End is a pleasant jumble of stores (selling books, records, or clothes), venues, historic cafés, and bagel shops that has served as home to the city’s young and artistically inclined for decades. It is also no stranger to gentrification, with property prices driving out the very cherished establishments that made the area trendy in the first place.