Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC), the venerable Canadian mountaineering and outdoorsy retail cooperative that I’ve been a member of for almost 25 years, keeps making mistakes. The mistakes are in where they decide to put their retail stores — at least when it comes to Montreal.
The first Montreal area MEC store opened in 2003, way up at Marché Central on Boulevard L’Acadie. To people from the ROC (Rest Of Canada), “Marché Central” probably sounds pretty central, and from the perspective of a map it sort of is if you were to erroneously consider Laval to be part of Montreal. But ask any youthful and outdoorsy Montrealers if they’ve ever been to Marché Central and you’ll get either a blank look or a grimace.
Marché Central, I’ll have you know, is a huge sprawl of big-box retail outlets in the donut-hole central wasteland of Montreal between Ahuntsic and Ville Saint-Laurent. Nobody goes there except for car-oriented suburbanites from Laval, Town of Mount Royal (where I can guarantee there are very few youthful outdoorsy types), or the West Island. Don’t believe me? Check it out in Street View:
This is particularly sad considering the outstanding “green” quality of the building, which should set a standard for the building of retail space. Unfortunately, the Marché Central is nowhere near a Metro station, and while there are buses to Marché Central, they’re not the known and mythical buses lines like the 80, the 105, or the 29. In other words, getting there for the average non-car owning person is a bothersome task, so why would they go there when stores like La Cordée and Atmosphere are located right downtown?
Despite the location, the MEC store in Marché Central seems to have stayed in business, although I rarely see any MEC branded gear being worn by people around town (and we know that 90% of all mountain gear sold never leaves the city).
Contrast this with the Quebec City store. It’s located right in the middle of the pedestrian-friendly and newly revitalized urban neighbourhood of Saint-Roch. Thousands of people walk by the store every day, and lots of them go in. People from Quebec City are sporty by nature, owing to the close proximity of beautiful mountains, lakes, rivers, and forests, and the ease of getting to them due to that city’s lack of traffic jams. So what do you see when you walk around Quebec City? Every second person is wearing a MEC jacket or shoes, and eight out of ten have a shoulder bag with the MEC stamp on it. (The Pod Sling Pack seems to be particularly popular.)
A few months ago I heard that MEC would open another store in the Montreal area. Guess where? On Tachereau (aka “Trashereau”) Boulevard in Greenfield Park! Most Montrealers probably don’t know this (because most Montrealers never go to the South Shore), but “Trashereau” Boulevard is probably the worst stretch of suburban retail blight in all of Quebec. South Shore residents go there often because it’s fairly handy, but it’s an awful place and I for one hate myself on a weekly basis for allowing its geographical convenience to trump my distaste for the area. (I live on the South Shore, in Longueuil.)
Seriously. Have you got a couple of minutes? Take a Street View stroll along this boulevard for a few blocks and tell me what you think.
The new store has just opened up. To encourage Montrealers to go there, MEC bought all of the advertising space in a tunnel in the Berri/UQAM Metro station. It’s the tunnel that leads to the yellow line — the one that goes to the South Shore. Hey MEC, you’re throwing your money away. If Marché Central is hard to get to by public transit, then “Trashereau” Boulevard is like going to the moon.
Not only do you have to change from the STM to the South Shore RTL system, you have to pay an extra $3.50 (each way) to use the buses over there and most importantly you have to figure out which departure gate to use and you’ll likely sit around for 30 minutes waiting for the bus. News Flash! The entire RTL system is set up for one purpose: to funnel suburbanites into the Montreal Metro system. All buses go from the outer reaches into the Terminus Longueuil, like the spokes of a wheel to a hub. It works well for people like me who live here (Longueuil) and work in Montreal because we use it on a daily basis and we learn what buses to take and when. But take a neophyte from Montreal and stick them in the Terminus Longueuil and say “find ye to Tashereau Boulevard” and you’re in for a heck of a spectacle.
Don’t get me wrong — I don’t object to MEC opening on the South Shore. In fact it’s a great idea because there are thousands of sporty people living over here. But couldn’t they open in a better location, such as Place Longueuil (walking distance from the Terminus Longueuil and a pretty easy bike ride from Montreal or anywhere on the South Shore) or even the dreaded Dix30? (There are express buses from the Terminus Longueuil to the Dix30, and once you’re there you can stroll and shop leisurely in many outlets and have lunch or a drink without worrying about needing to take a bus or a car to get from place to place.) Why “Trashereau?”
MEC has thoughtfully provided directions on their Web site for the new store, including bus numbers, but I’m willing to bet that most Montrealers won’t bother. They’ll keep on going to the easy-to-get-to outfitters in town. As it stands I’ve never been to the Marché Central store but I’ve been to the Quebec City store plenty of times (and I don’t even live in Quebec City, but whenever I’m there I inevitably walk past the MEC store because it’s right there, in the middle of town). It remains to be seen if I’ll visit the Greenfield Park store. Considering there’s a Valmont Fruiterie nearby that I visit two or three times a month, the odds are good. But if Valmont (or a similar store) opens nearer to my house, I’ll be glad to never go near “Trashereau” Boulevard again.