MONTREAL -- Empty storefronts are a common sight in Montreal, and the city will hold public hearings in January hoping to find a solution to the ongoing problem.

An online survey is currently gauging opinions about the issue, as the city remains with a vacancy rate around 15 per cent.

"Probably the biggest thing I feel is a growing sense of hopelessness actually from my customers, people who walk in worried," said Mezari Atelier and Boutique owner Stephanie Coleman. "They're sad about it and worried everyone else is going to close too. It was very rapid. You lost a lot of stores in a really short amount of time."

Coleman's shop is on Duluth St. near St. Denis, a once vibrant shopping area that has been hard hit by years of construction.

That area's vacancy rate is now at 26 per cent.


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City officials say online retail, rising rents and real estate speculation are among the problems some neighbourhoods are facing.

Boutique owners such as the used record store owners recently fined for violating an operating hours law complain that they've been unfairly targeted and hope the city will remove some basic obstacles.

"My neighbour was hit with a $1,000 fine last year for having a sandwich board out front," said Coleman.

The problem is not unique to Montreal.

"Fundamentally, the rules of retail have been changed so dramatically, largely by technology, but also by different demographics," said CEO and founder of the Retail Prophet Doug Stephens. "Municipalities should be recalibrating around small and medium-sized retail and using that as a catalyst to rekindle a sense of community in those urban centres."

Stephens said smaller businesses that can offer unique experiences and well-curated products are more likely to survive.

"Things that you literally cannot do in front of a computer, I try to do that here, so people have a reason to get out and connect with each other," said Coleman.