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Bishop Street merchants driven to bankruptcy by 3-year marathon construction project

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Bishop Street merchants driven to bankruptcy by 3-year marathon construction project

On Bishop Street in downtown Montreal, businesses that once thrived are shuttered, newspaper haphazardly taped over windows and À Louer/For Rent signs advertising the strip's recent descent into misfortune.

Half a dozen Bishop Street restaurants are casualties of the three-year construction project that has plagued the area since October 2016.

On the east side of the street, hidden behind large concrete barriers and construction fences, there are only three businesses left.

One of them is Restaurant Ferrari, run by Elio Schiavi for the last 35 years.

Schiavi says that he's hanging on, month by month, using up whatever savings he has to keep the doors open.

"I don't know for how long we will go on like this," he said. "I'm gonna be 75 in June. So I don't have much left."

He told CBC more than a year ago that some nights, there's not a single person inside his restaurant.

The 42-month STM construction project to replace a ventilation station in Guy-Concordia Metro has effectively killed foot traffic on the block.

McKibbin's bar, located on the west side of Bishop, and American chain Pizza Hut may well be the last businesses standing by the time the work is slated to finish in 2020.

Schiavi is one of the merchants who took the STM to court to sue for lost revenues.

He says that the other restaurants involved in the suit — Kafein, Craft Grilled Cheese, Gourmet Burger and Mesa 14 — have all gone under, so he's the only one left footing the lawyers' bills.

The businesses were hoping the Quebec Superior Court would force the city and the transit authority to give them money upfront while they pursue their case.

They argued that without it, they wouldn't be around by the time a judgment is rendered. Their plea was denied.

"It hurt," said Mike Cloughesy, the former owner of Mesa 14, about the restaurant's bankruptcy. "It hurt: we'd been there over 13 years. We became attached to our regulars, attached to our way of life." 

"We put a lot of blood into it."

He's still personally on the hook for about $75,000, and as a bankrupt company, he says he won't be entitled to anything even if the court case does result in a settlement.

Cloughesy told CBC that Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante vowed to help Bishop Street merchants during her campaign.

"She promised help in terms of tax breaks and maybe some aid," he said. "Since her election, we have yet to receive anything. We have yet to hear or have any offers of help."

Plante said this week that it was still a priority for her administration, but merchants would have to be patient.

"I'd like to say that I can go faster than this, but I can't. But that being said, we're going to be sharing the business plan in June. So it's coming soon."

The STM declined to comment, because of the case before the courts.