My old friend Ron Kensley used to say that there were two types of people in the world: people from Verdun, and people who wish they were from Verdun. I’ve often said the same thing about Montreal. Regardless, if you’re not from around here, you probably don’t know what a dépanneur is: a “dep” is a kind of all-purpose convenience store that sells everything from beer, wine, smokes, and lottery-tickets to milk, bread, hummus, cheese, toilet paper, toothpaste, and tampons. Since they sell basics people need and consume daily, there’s a dep on every street corner, and people tend to go to the dep closest to them.
But deps can’t be too close to each other. For instance, when Frank’s dep at the corner of Rue Roy and Avenue Laval burned down a few years ago, we switched to the Mastrocola mural dep at the corner of Avenue des Pins and Avenue de l’Hôtel-de-Ville. Took years, but the insurance claim finally came through for Frank; and, as a consequence, the dep at the corner of Roy and Laval is being rebuilt. This worries the owner of the Mastrocola mural dep. Big time. Because when deps are too close to each other, it’s a zero-sum game: your competitor’s gain is your loss and visa versa. The same is true, to a large extent, of gas stations. But it’s not true of bridal shops.
The vast majority of the bridal shops in Montreal are clustered together on a few blocks of Rue St-Hubert. Do they compete with each other? Sure. But the benefits of coöperation far outweigh the costs of competition if you’re running a bridal shop. If you live in Montreal, and you’re looking to buy a wedding dress, most people go to Rue St-Hubert first. And one of those bridal shops makes a sale, more often than not. Why waste hours and hours running around the city when you can find everything you’re looking for in one place?
If you’re an artist or a writer or a musician, you’re much more like a bridal shop owner than a dep owner. J.R.R. Tolkien didn’t steal my attention away from other fantasy writers when I was a teenager; he made me want to read more fantasy fiction. Tony Hoagland didn’t steal my attention away from other poets in my mid-twenties; he made me want to read more poetry. And Aaron Haspel and Nassim Nicholas Taleb didn’t steal my attention away from other aphorists in my thirties; they made me want to read more aphorisms. If you’re working within the same genre, the benefits of coöperating with other artists far outweigh the costs of competing with them.
—John Faithful Hamer