What hits you first is the smell. The sweet and delicately tropical smell of high-quality imported mahogany. Then it’s the warm and slightly humid air in the workshop, controlled to scientific precision. The place is impeccably kept and tidy, no surprise when you consider the quality of workmanship that goes into the product.
Michael Greenfield has been making guitars for over 25 years and has been playing them for more than twice as long. He is renowned around the world for the quality of his instruments, producing only 18 guitars a year with a starting price of USD 14,500.
The roster of artists who play his instruments run the gamut from classically trained guitarists to international rockstars. Keith Richards, the lead guitarist of The Rolling stones, and Andy McKee, considered to be one of the world’s finest acoustic guitar soloists, both play Greenfields. Put simply, Michael Greenfield has made it in his industry.
Point of contention
Greenfield moved into his workshop on de l’Épée in 2007 after signing a 5-year lease including four consecutive renewal options made with the previous owner, going to 2027. These renewal options allow a tenant to renew their lease on the same terms while renegotiating the price through good faith negotiations with the landlord.
Last year, the building where he is based changed hands to the real-estate development group Mondev. A company representative told Greenfield they wanted to keep current tenants but also wanted to “bring it up to market value.”
According to Greenfield, 6 months later Mondev sent a bailiff to hand out eviction notices to tenants without registered leases. “I have a registered lease, so they handed me a lawyer’s letter contesting my final term,” said Greenfield.
He alleges that the company is attempting to push him out by nearly tripling his rent when his term expires in August 2022. He argues that the company is not acting in good faith and does not want to compromise on the price.
“When I renewed my option it’s been based on the index,” said Greenfield, referring to previous rent hikes which were based on a cost of living index, adding that “for the previous three terms, it’s been that way.”
With tight margins and low volume, a change of this magnitude would threaten Greenfield’s ability to stay in business. Moving the highly specialized workshop would also bankrupt his artisanal company.
“I’ve been a career guitar maker for the last 26 years, I opened this business in 1995,” said Greenfield passionately in his small office space at the corner of his workshop. “I started building my own acoustic guitars and completely fell in love with it and decided this is what I really want to do.”
Given the nature of his work, precision in the building process is key. “In what I do climate control is the most important tool,” explained Greenfield. “It’s like a lab in there,” added Greenfield pointing through the glass window into his workshop.
“It’s 43% humidity, 23 degrees 24/7,” he continued, highlighting the various systems he has installed over the years including air filtration, intricate electrical circuits, hefty machinery and extensive tubing and plumbing.
If he were forced to move, Greenfield would have to reconfigure his entire workshop costing him at least $300,000 and shutting his business down for at least 6 months. He says this would put him out of business.
Respecting what is on the lease
When contacted on the matter, Mondev senior partner Michael Owen said that they would follow the conditions of the lease and that they were happy to renegotiate once it was up.
“We will respect the terms of the lease that are in place,” said Owen, but added that they could not honour unprovable verbal agreements made between the tenant and the previous owner. “If it’s not in writing in the lease it doesn’t exist.”
“We are not a landlord that throws our tenants out,” rebuffed Owen, adding that they treated all their tenants with respect, but still needed to turn a profit on their investment. “At the end of the day, business is business,” he added.
The unit where Greenfield is located is currently listed as “available” on Mondev’s website.
A growing trend in Parc-Ex
Although the organization does not deal directly with commercial tenants, Amy Darwish at Comité d’action de Parc-Extension (CAPE), said situations like these are a direct result of growing property speculation across Montreal.
“With the arrival of the new campus, we’ve really been seeing a lot of pressure on Beaumont,” said Darwish, explaining that it attracts wealthier residents into the area and thus higher-end businesses, further pushing up real-estate prices.
“What this often means is it ends up changing the character of the neighbourhood and can also compound the longtime residents’ sense of alienation and isolation in their own neighbourhood,” she added.
“What happened on Beaumont street wasn’t incidental, it’s not a coincidence,” remarked Darwish referring to its rezoning in 2014 when much of the street went from heavy industry to residential and commercial. “That’s what made it so much more attractive for groups like Mondev and group Montoni to snap up those lots.”
The Parc-Ex guitar
For now, Michael is waiting to see what will come next. He has received support from local politicians including the mayor. “Imagine, Keith Richards has a guitar made in Park Ex,” said mayor Giuliana Fumagalli, adding she found it “sad and frustrating when our small local businesses are pushed out of the neighbourhoods that they helped build.”
Given that commercial tenants do not have the same protections or recourse to administrative mechanisms as residential ones, Greenfield said he would do whatever it took to keep his workshop in Parc-Ex.
“I’m a guitar maker. My exit strategy is to die at my workbench, there’s no retirement, there are no savings,” said Greenfield. “At seventy years old do I want to buy $300,000 of debt to move my business and start again? No. I need this business to keep going because I have to keep going.”