With files from Matt Grillo

The city of Montreal is going to spend months studying failing storefronts in multiple neighbourhoods in order to figure out how to help merchants succeed.

In September analysts will look at various streets that have had multiple stores close and leave commercial spaces vacant as the vacancy rate has soared.

"Of course the numbers are scary," said borough councillor Marie Plourde, but she pointed out that there has been a slight improvement in the Mile End.

"From January till now they went from 23 percent of vacant lots to 20, so it's getting better," said Plourde.

It's been an issue for many years along St. Laurent Blvd. and St. Denis St., but lately has become a problem in the Mile End as well.

Commercial development consultant Glenn Castanheira said in addition to rents, real estate speculation, and the rise of online shopping, the laissez-faire attitude taken by governments is part of the problem.

"We don't have a real portrait of the situation. We don't really know what we're doing with commercial development in Montreal and in the rest of Quebec," said Castanheira.

He said limiting commercial sprawl could help solve the problem, as could fining property owners who don't rent their space.

"In the case of Chicago it's six months. When a business is vacant for more than six months it needs to be registered," said Castaheira.

"Unless you get a full picture of the situation you will never tackle it adequately."

St. Denis Street's slow decline


St. Denis has been struggling ever since a major infrastructure project to repace water pipes, and many merchants said they saw sales plummet when the work began in 2015, and did not recover. Dozens of companies closed in the first two years of construction but once the construction project ended more stores continued to close.

On other streets merchants told CTV News that in addition to shoppers avoiding the area, they had to cope with rent increases. Chez De Gaulle On St. Viateur St. closed in July when its rent more than tripled, and the Cagibi bar closed earlier in the year when its rent doubled.

Last year Montreal offered merchants up to $25 million in compensation for construction projects.

Mayor Valerie Plante said there is no single solution to a complicated problem, and solving it will take time.

"I cannot find a solution out of my hat that will fit all the arteries because it's not the reality. Some local business strips are doing fine, are doing great," said Plante, pointing to Laurier Ave. and Mont Royal Ave. as examples of thriving streets.

"Just beside is St. Denis which is not doing well, so we have to figure out why," said Plante.

Opposition leader Lionel Perez said Projet Montreal has had plenty of time to do something about the worst-affected area, Plateau-Mont Royal borough.

"Projet Montreal has been in power for 10 years in the Plateau and they didn't care about St. Denis. They didn't do anything to try and improve the situation for St. Denis," said Perez.

Several merchants told CTV News they were glad the city was finally taking the initiative to determine how to help them succeed.

"The city is right to ask itself questions, I think owners and retailers are right to ask themselves questions," said Michel Leblanc, spokesperson for Montreal's Chamber of Commerce.

"It's changing and we have to think about the solutions."

The first phase of the city's analysis will run from September until November as it examines the state of commercial properties and stores in Montreal.

In December the Commission on Economic and Urban Development and Housing will present a report about the status of the city, and in January 2020 the public consultation office will hold several hearings and solicit input from the public.