Geographical Mistakes of Mountain Equipment Co-op

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:

Urban paradise!

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.

Boulevard Trashereau!

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.

17 thoughts on “Geographical Mistakes of Mountain Equipment Co-op

  1. MEC opened at the Marché Centrale because, for its size, it was the only location they could afford. By building there, they succeeded in not stepping on competitors’ toes.
    La Cordée was originally on St-Denis, just north of de Maisonneuve. I’m sure, when they moved in the ’80s to Ste-Catherine E, a bunch of folks complained that it was too far from the city core. But I’m sure it costs less to be where they are now.
    L’Aventurier opened in La Cordée’s previous spot, right by a prime metro station. Oh, but they went bankrupt. Now it’s some Sports Expert subsidiary.
    Perhaps folks think that Le Yeti is a bit out of the way, who knows? But I’m thinking that running these stores can be a rather iffy undertaking, so better to be located on less-expensive locations. Heck, I can’t even figure out how to get to a Sail store.
    You should take a gander at the Marché Centrale MEC. It’s incredibly easy to get to, and really nice. But yeah, there’s no way I’m gonna go to the one on the South Shore.

  2. I worked at a Winners store on Trashereau in Greenfield Park while living on the West Island. It was a nasty combination of walk, bus, train, metro and then another bus to get to work and then the reverse to get back home in the evening. I worked 2 to 3 night a week – getting out of the store at about 9:30 p.m. Spent mainly cold rainy nights waiting for busses that were well off their schedule.

    It was costly in fares as well as the massive amount of time it took to travel (and wait). I ended up quitting retail store sales forever after that last straw and come to think of it, haven’t shopped on the strip since. Gotta be 10 years. I live in Pte-Calumet now and rarely even bother to go downtown since I now work on the West Island.

    Had to pick up my car at a garage in CDN at 5:00 on Friday and the trip in and out esp. Decarie was more than enough to convince me to continue shopping where I live or while on a trip. I’m more likely to get to an L.L. Bean cross-border than I am to any MEC store anytime soon.

  3. That Krispy Kreme is the only one I know (and that’s a good thing for me)! And for me, Marché central (no e, marché being masculine) is quite central… to where I grew up in town, so it’s very clear to me where it is and how to get there (and yup, by car!). But I agree: for most people it’s extraordinarily inconvenient. And Taschereau? Oh boy. I don’t think so!

    I used to go to MEC: I was so happy when they opened in Montreal! But then things changed. I repeatedly got horrible service there (whereas I was used to extraordinary friendliness and helpfulness when I went to the Ottawa store). We’re taking over a month to get a jacket repaired (in Québec City!) and a brush off when we intended to buy $400 boots, among other events. Then they stopped producing their MEC-brand products out west. I stopped going completely. MEC used to be the best place, by far. And then it seemed they decided to sell/push stuff instead and became like any other big store (except for the awesome eco-friendly space, I’ll happily grant them that!). That’s my beef, more than locations.

  4. Michel, since when does a business worry about stepping on its competitors’ toes? That’s what businesses do… they drive out the other guy and then take the customers for themselves.

    Anyway, the point remains that MEC at Marché Centrale is hard to get to unless you have a car, and even then you have to put up with driving on the 40 and/or going through that insane L’Acadie circle. It’s ironic that they go so green on the building, yet they locate in a place that has absolutely zero pedestrian traffic.

    I think it’s funny that whenever I’m in Quebec City I always end up in front of their store without even planning it that way. That will never happen in Montreal.

    BTW you make a good point about the fact that the L’Acadie location is relatively cheap. Certainly cheaper than the St. Denis location near the Berri-UQAM Metro, which has to be among the most expensive retail space in the city. But La Cordée found a big spot on Ste. Catherine street, walking distance to Papineau Metro, and I’m sure that space is cheap because that stretch of Ste-C. is grim (but easy to get to).

    Martine made the point to me that most outdoors sporty people have cars, and that’s a good point. However, I stand by my rant! :-)

  5. Not really about MEC, but as a side note, both Krispy Kreme locations that were on the island are long gone.

  6. More than just Quebec City, every MEC in other Canadian cities — Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, etc. — is located in downtown areas with good transit connectivity and decent pedestrian traffic. If they can afford to build a store on King Street in Toronto, I don’t see why they can’t afford something in an urban part of Montreal.

  7. Actually, MEC is about a five-minute walk from the end of the line of the 80 bus. It’s not the pleasantest walk in the world, but you just cross the highway on Querbes, beside the tracks, and either take the sidewalk around the corner onto l’Acadie, or cut through the market and the parking lot.

    Don’t stop to take any photos in the market, though, or security guys will be on you immediately.

  8. @dewolf, Not EVERY MEC in other Canadian cities are in the downtown core. The Ottawa store is in the west end in an area highly congested with traffic – even more than Toronto’s downtown King St. location. Not sure about the transit connectivity for Ottawa, but it’s true that the pedestrian traffic is there.

    @Blork, I’ll also add to Martine’s ‘most outdoors sporty people have cars’, that if they don’t, they often are willing to cycle or walk a much greater distance than your average folk. Also, I hate that St-Catherine’s location of La Cordée. Too cramped. The price you pay for a downtown location. I’d much rather go to the Laval La Cordée as it’s not so crowded (with merchandise or people). But it’s true. I am going by car and that perhaps is the most deciding factor in all of this (method of transportation).

    @vieux bandit, Totally agree about the service at the Montréal MEC (with the exception perhaps of the climbing department where they’re usually pretty friendly). Anyhow, the service in Montreal is definitely not as good as the Ottawa or even the Toronto location. Yes. I said it. The Center of the Universe can actually have good service. Really!

  9. Man, that first sentence in my comment is screwed grammatically. I guess it should be ‘Not ALL MECs in other Canadian cities are in the downtown core’. Ooops.

  10. Actually, It isn’t far from the AMT’s Chabanel train station on Chabanel between the Marché Central and the schmotte district. Chabanel is on the Montreal to St Jerome line. So you can get on the train at Lucien l’Allier, Vendome, Montreal West, Canora? or Park (yes, the line makes a large arc around the mountain. It takes about a half an hour (from downtown).

    The l’Acadie bus is the 179 and meets the 80 at Jarry and Champagneur.

  11. P.S.
    You could also take the metro to Park and then the train one stop.

  12. I’d like to offer a bit of “insider info” which might shed light on why we chose our Marché Central and Longueuil locations.

    “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.”

    >> When MEC decided to open its first store in La Belle Province, we needed a location that was central to Greater Montreal, which includes not only Laval, but also the South Shore. Furthermore, Laval residents currently account for more than half of the Marché Central store’s sales.

    “I rarely see any MEC branded gear being worn by people around town.”

    >> When I started working for MEC in Montréal back in 2003, I agree that was the case. I have since then moved to Vancouver (where I still work for MEC), and every time I do return to Montréal (as I just did last week), I notice more and more MEC packs, jackets, etc. Maybe I’m looking for them more than you are, but there is definitely an increase in brand penetration. As for your comment that in Québec 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”, keep in mind that Québec City’s population is just shy of 500,000 while Montréal’s is over three time that.

    “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.”

    >>I agree with you that the Québec City location is our most cyclist and pedestrian-friendly one in Québec while getting to Marché Central is a bothersome —albeit possible— task for the average non-car owning person. It should be noted that about two-thirds of that store’s staff ride or take the bus to work. Life being filled with ironies, one of the major complaints we get in our Québec City store pertains to the lack of parking!

    “But couldn’t they open in a better location, such as Place Longueuil (walking distance from the Terminus Longueuil and an pretty easy bike ride from Montreal or anywhere on the South Shore) or even the dreaded Dix30?”

    >>MEC tries to locate its stores close to public transit and bike routes, but we also to have to acknowledge the fact that over 90% of people who come to our stores come by car. This statistic is the national average for ALL our stores, not just the Québec ones. While Toronto has the lowest rate of driving visitors, it still hits the 80% mark.

  13. …cont’d

    >> About two years ago, MEC’s Board of Directors approved concept for two new stores in Québec: one in downtown Montreal and one on the South Shore. Finding a downtown location that meets all our requirements (there are lots ranging from accessibility, green building possibilities, costs, and market growth) has proven very challenging. We’re still looking. The Longueuil location was found quickly. As opposed to Dix30, where our store would have been lost in the jungle, our current South Shore location allows for great visibility, which is much appreciated by members making their first trip to the store. Furthermore, we needed the South Shore store to be far enough away from Montreal so as not to be competing directly with our planned downtown location, while also being centrally located to members from Boucherville to St-Constant.

    “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.”

    >> Using the same logic you apply here, we project that MEC Longueuil’s positive aspects will greatly outweigh its negative ones, and that it will become a choice destination for South Shore residents. In addition, MEC has along tradition of revitilazing less than perfect areas where we’ve located stores and we hope Taschereau will follow suit.

  14. ArianeT, thanks for those insights, they explain a lot. I particularly like the irony of the Quebec City store getting complaints about the lack of parking space! :-)

    I’m glad to hear you have a downtown location planned. I can think of two large retail spaces that are available right now. One is the old Omer Deserres store on Ste-Catherine street, a couple of blocks east of the Forum. That’s traditionally a fairly dead part of the street, but people have been complaining that it needs revitalization for years. It’s super convenient, but for some reason the block or two east and west of the location is not very successful. Omer Deserres moved out over two years ago and the space (which is huge) is still empty — and probably cheap.

    Then there’s the former Archambault store in the Les Ailes de la Mode complex next to the Eaton Centre. Super location, right on the Metro, at the heart of downtown retail Montreal. That Les Ailes complex has suffered a lot since it opened because it was shooting to be too chic and exclusive. The flagship store has been skirting bankruptcy for years. But it’s a gorgeous space and is, like I said, hugely convenient.

    Archambault left their space a little more than a year ago, and I think it’s still empty. Huge space on two stories (second level fronts right on Ste-Catherine and the first level opens into the underground retail area that links the Metro, Eaton Center, Place de la Cathedrale, etc. I suspect the space would be had for a reasonable price because the landlords really need a good retailer to anchor that side of the building.

    There you go! Two good ideas! :-)

  15. Thanks for your suggestions blork. I shall forward them to MEC’s Senior Management Team.

  16. I agree that MEC’s Montreal location is horrible. I don’t have a car and I prefer to only go to locations that are walking distance from a metro station. That being said, I will take a bus for somewhere I really want to go. However, the whole Marche Central area is extremely depressing and hellish. I hate going there, so I just stopped. It always reminded me of the place I hate the most: Taschereau boulevard. (Then, ironically, they choose Taschereau for their next location!) Now I only buy from MEC online, and only once in a while. MEC really should have picked a more urban, walkable location. They try to project an image of corporate responsibility, and I think choosing pedestrian-friendly locations would be a good sign of that.

    I agree that the former Omer de Serres store would be a GREAT location. I would probably find myself going there practically by accident.

    As for most outdoors sporty people having cars, that is a sad irony. All these people who claim to love nature seem to be doing their best to destroy it. There should be ways of getting out into nature without depending on private automobiles. Bus service to provincial parks, perhaps? Maybe just twice a day, so you can spend the day there and come back to the city.

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