Live from Earth: Prince Arthur 1970, Montreal’s Haight-Ashbury?
LR: But now it’s hard to suppress.
Larry: Well, now it’s past subversion. They’ve failed miserably at suppressing it, and now they’re backing up so fast they’re tripping over themselves. You can see it happen with medical, “Yes to medical, but NO recreational.” Well, we heard that five years ago; they were saying, “Yes to industrial, but NO medical.”
LR: Well now even the police are saying that anything under 30 grams shouldn’t be a criminal offense.
Larry: The policemen simply just don’t have the time. Also, they now have to bust their friends, their nephews, their kids… It always was the young who took the beating. They rarely prosecute the 45-year-old, they’ll throw his joint away and say You should know better. Now these cops have a problem, they’re running into their own relatives. It’s over.
LR: Are you a native Montrealer?
Larry: Well, I originated in Manitoba, but I’ve been here since the 60s.
LR: I’m assuming that when you had the shop on Prince Arthur, you lived right nearby?
Larry: We lived within a hundred yards of the store, in an old rooming house we turned into a house.
LR: Was there as much traffic in the area?
Larry: Oh, it was much less congested. St. Lawrence was just sort of an ethnic street, there were none of the clubs, none of the attention at all. They were really all just funky little Greek and European restaurants and grocery stores, and lots of clothing, garments, textiles.
LR: There are still reminders of that here (in 1999, not so much in 2015).
Larry: Just the last dregs, they’re hurting…
LR: I guess the rents go up once the clubs move in, and the taxes go up…
Larry: It sort of changed the whole area. When I started my company I moved into a warehouse on St. Lawrence (St-Laurent Blvd) which is now a big bistro-bar, right at the head of Milton. I spent 21 years in that building. And I became a member of the executive of the St-Laurent Merchants Association. So along with four or five other people, our major occupation was putting on two street sales a year. We started that in 1980. And that was the sum total of our efforts, with the association.
LR: Do you think there’s anything else you could’ve done, in hindsight?
Larry: Well, you couldn’t really keep the growth, we watched Prince Arthur destroy itself, and we started to see that it was the same thing starting on St. Lawrence. We managed to get the city to put a moratorium on bar licenses, liquor licenses, but we knew that that was only a matter of time. And for quite a few landlords, they wanted to see this thing open up because they were gonna get more money. But the lesson learned with Prince Arthur, again in a free enterprise system it’s very difficult to control it. But in Prince Arthur, they rushed in a greedy headlong fervor, and they just destroyed any other commerce that was there. So when you go down to Prince Arthur, it’s very quétaine, you know (meaning ‘cutesy’). In the summer it’s just piles of people sitting outside, there’s just no other reason to be there aside from having a meal or a drink. You don’t have the galleries, you don’t have the clothing stores, and you don’t have anything else. You’ve gotta have a mix of types of businesses to make it worth it for people to visit year-round.
LR: That’s what’s great about St. Laurent, but…
Larry: It’s starting (in 1999), the same thing.
LR: Hofner’s just closed.
Larry: Yup, they went out of business. So you’re losing that mix which draws the daytime traffic, which gives, you know… There are still some nice boutiques, and hopefully that will last. The clubs have so much money, and the big restaurants come down and just eat up the area. Now what they did between Prince Arthur and Sherbrooke is OK, that was a pretty dead zone, there wasn’t really a lot they bashed up there. Now they’re starting to work their way up. But you know, you go north of Pine Ave. and you get empty storefronts. So there’s no great success happening, but then there’s no great success happening in the rest of the city. We get very poor administration here, very very poor.
LR: Development by demolition, basically.
Larry: No foresight, absolutely no idea. I mean, this is a tourist city. Tourists love Montreal, Americans love Montreal. So when you have that happening, find out what they want and give it to them. Kids flow up here because (marijuana) bud is available, they don’t get hassled by the police, they can find it, and buy it and enjoy themselves. Make it easy. Get some coffee shops, make this like Amsterdam. Don’t wait around and pull some kind of moral trip. Twenty years ago they were saying this about gambling. “Oh no no, never.” Now they can’t wait to build another casino here. You’ve got to give them what they want.
The worst thing that ever happened to this city was Drapeau. He came along and cleaned up the city, a very exciting city. And he brought us two things that we’re still paying for. One put us on the map (Expo 67), and the other one sunk us (the Olympics). I’m sorry, but when you’re still paying for a stadium that’s a piece of shit…
LR: And your only solution is to try to build a second one…
Larry: You’re making a big mistake, that’s not too much intelligence.
LR: It’s really hard to grasp how badly the city is managed right now. I’m constantly hearing of landmark old buildings getting pulled down for some new, shiny and bigger building that might not even get built.
Larry: Unbelievable stupidity, unbelievable. Take away the charm of the city, and stick up what. And for whose benefit? For the construction industry? Not for tourists, not for us…
A modified version of this interview was first published in Montreal’s Fish Piss Magazine, Volume Two, Number One, 2000.