Merchants’ association revitalizes the Main for summer crush

Helene Desbiens, left, Audrée Archambault, Gabriel Ducharme and Frederic Savard sweep up litter during the third edition of the Grand Corvé du Boulevard St-Laurent in Montreal on Sunday May 21, 2017.
John Mahoney / Montreal Gazette

Artist Jason Wasserman was down on one knee, in his socks and rolled-up camouflage cargo pants on a St-Laurent Blvd. sidewalk Sunday morning putting the early touches on what would become a sprawling illustration of “Macho Man” Randy Savage by day’s end.

He started with a coat of white paint in the early morning, and then, outlining a drawing he sketched earlier, painstakingly pencilled in the lines that he’d later paint in black to bring the illustration to life.

Though a lot of work in its own right, Wasserman’s art played only a small part in the St-Laurent Blvd. merchants’ association’s all-day effort to clean up and revitalize the Main on Sunday ahead of its busiest months of the year.

The merchants’ association had 100 people running up and down the boulevard, between Sherbrooke St. and Mount-Royal Ave., picking up garbage, installing flower boxes, washing sidewalks and scrubbing parking meters, benches and garbage cans. A professional graffiti removal team was also in tow, cleaning up facades and doors as they went along.

“We want to make sure the boulevard is spick and span for the public and ready to greet everyone when they get here,” the association’s general manager Tasha Morizio said.

It’s the third straight year the group takes to the Main in May to freshen it up for the summer. And the third year a local artist is hired to design art for vinyl decals the group places in empty storefront windows along St-Laurent Blvd.

Artists are usually asked to come up with symbols and icons representing what the Main means for them, but this year, Morizio said, the group wanted to pay tribute to Leonard Cohen, who died last November. Local artist Cheryl Voisine was asked to find inspiration in Cohen’s lyrics for this year’s edition.

The result — a guitar, a fedora hat, the vertical Hotel Chelsea sign and a bird perched on a wire, among other symbols — is now displayed in vacant shop storefronts. 

“We really wanted to give back to Leonard,” Morizio said. “He was such a big part of the culture of the boulevard and the history of the Main.”

Morizio said the boulevard has hit its lowest vacancy rate in recent years (seven per cent) and she could see it getting even lower as summer approaches — a lot of the vacant properties you see in the area, she said, are currently rented and in the process of being renovated inside. 

Though there are a lot of factors to thank for the boost, Morizio said the city’s annual Mural Festival, which starts June 8 this year, has helped revitalize the area, turning it into an open air art gallery of sorts where artwork the likes of Wasserman’s new illustration can thrive and help attract locals and tourists alike. 

“It really feels like there’s a revival of the Main that’s coming in,” she said. “Every street has a wave, and I think we’ve hit our peak. For a lot of people, I think the time has come to revisit and resee everything that has opened up and all the new businesses that are here.”