Where can you get a budgie, wedding dress, vinyl, or hair extensions while eating great smoked meat? On the Plaza Saint-Hubert, of course.

If the artist Pony, born Gabrielle Laïla Tittley, chose to settle at 6534, rue Saint-Hubert in 2020, it is because she loves the multiculturalism and eclecticism of the Plaza. “It reflects Montreal and the clash between tradition and the future. »

There cohabit businesses “that have existed since the days of neon lights” and those of young people “who want to bring this end of the street back to life”. “It’s touching and it’s weird,” Pony said.

The Plaza is a world apart. And a conference on the history of the Plaza will also take place this Sunday at the Librairie Paulines.

A succession of institutions, vacant premises that display “opening soon”, shops with faded signs, trendy bars and offices of state-of-the-art architects follow one another over 1.2 kilometers. However, we do not know the stories that hide behind the doors of some 400 businesses.

On a Wednesday morning, in the VIP lounge of the Oui je le Veux boutique, Stéphanie Pothier is all smiles in the sublime white lace dress on which seamstress Manon Tremblay is making the final adjustments. “There are pockets,” Stephanie gloats as she lifts the bottom of her dress to reveal a pair of floral-patterned Doc Martens ankle boots that will add a grungy touch to her planned woodland wedding look.

Women have been buying dresses from Yes I Wish For Three Generations. Others return there for a second union. There is also a significant Indigenous and Far North clientele.

But why has Plaza Saint-Hubert become a haunt of brides and grooms? To find out, we chatted with Tony Parente, owner of Tania Shoes.

From 1978 to 1980, Tony took part in bridal shows. At the time, he was president of the Plaza Merchants Association. The director at the time, Raymonde Cadieux, and she invited other merchants to participate in trade shows, which created a snowball effect.

Tony Parente still knows the addresses of old and new businesses by heart, reciting them at lightning speed. His store is a journey through time. “I’m the only place left in Quebec that makes dyes in all the colors of the rainbow,” he boasts.

Chez Ricom instead attracts a large clientele of black women – even from the United States – for its cosmetics or hair product lines. “I live in Amos, Abitibi, and I come here to buy my products,” Jessica told us. Here, there are products for black women that there are not at Jean Coutu. »

While Plaza Saint-Hubert has always had a very multi-ethnic clientele, many Latino merchants have recently set up shop between Bélanger and Jean-Talon streets, points out Mike Parente (Tony’s son), general manager of the Commercial Development Corporation ( SDC) from the Plaza.

Vien Man Cao Tran and Michelle Vo set to open Vietnamese wine bar Ăn Chơi. The latter was not convinced of the location of the Plaza at first. “For me, the Plaza was fabric and dress stores. Clearly, she has changed,” she confesses.

His business partner says he used to go shopping there with his parents when he was a child. “In the 1980s, it was THE place,” he recalls. For immigrants, the Plaza was a bargain spot, but it was posh. Rents are still affordable. More than in Little Burgundy, where he opened Bar Otto.

Vien Man Cao Tran points out how the opening of the Montreal Plaza by Charles-Antoine Crête and Cheryl Johnson in 2015 boosted the Plaza’s image and encouraged the arrival of other restaurateurs, including the Brouillon wine bar, the Beaufort restaurant and Le Système, a bar where you can dance after eating. “This is only the beginning of the new Plaza,” says the one who is nevertheless delighted that the Plaza remains… the Plaza.

Catching sight of Terry Westcott walking out of his second-hand bookstore, we remember the English-language media announcing his arrival at the Plaza in 2018 after he was forced out of Saint-Laurent Boulevard due to high rents. He will be 80 soon. The choice is vast in his bookstore, but Marie Kondo would be faint.

“Business going well?”

“People still read books,” the Montreal character replies.

Next must stop: the Aquarium of the North. “I’m the next generation,” says Vanessa, daughter of owner François St-Louis, behind the checkout. “Aquarium du Nord has existed since 1947 and has occupied the address here since 1961. My grandfather bought the building. It is the oldest animal institution in Montreal still open. It used to be a Chinese restaurant here, and I recently found some neon-era photos that look like the ones in Las Vegas. Ahead, the St-Hubert had a large, luminous rooster. »

“Recently, a lot of offices have come in: TUX, Cardin Julien, La Firme,” says Mike Parente, whom we asked for an interview the day before the headlines about the brand new canopies of the Plaza which will have to be modified to better withstand the snow.

Once again, the Plaza will pull through (this time after an engineering imbroglio). The proof: the Nickels is still there, just like the Oscar confectionery, the medieval Dracolite shop and the Raffin bookshop, opened in 1930!

So how’s the Plaza doing?

“Better than it’s ever been, but it has its challenges,” said SDC Chairman Dave Lechasseur. You have to keep your character, but renew it. »

Next major project: a pedestrianization project planned for next summer. Nothing less !