The Los Angeles-based spice shop with a branch in Montreal’s Mile-End neighbourhood is protesting an order by the Office quebecois de la langue francaise to translate the company’s English-only website into French. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Owner of spice shop in hot water in Quebec over English-only website

MONTREAL — The owner of a Montreal spice shop that is struggling financially says he may close it because of pressure from Quebec’s language watchdog over an English-only website.

Peter Bahlawanian, who owns a Los Angeles shop that has an outlet in Montreal, has been ordered to translate the company’s website into French.

He said he set up the site when he originally opened his Spice Station store in the United States in 2009.

Two years later, he opened two shops in Montreal, gave his business a French name and even translated the names and descriptions of the 450 spices he carries.

One of the stores later closed.

Bahlawanian, who was born and raised in Montreal, said the one that’s still open is not doing well financially and he doesn’t know yet if it will stay afloat.

“I might keep it, I might not keep it,” he said in an interview Thursday from Los Angeles.

“Obviously if my store was making tons of money, things would have been a lot easier.”

He said 99 per cent of his sales come from the United States and elsewhere, while the rest comes from Canada, mostly outside Quebec.

This past June, the province’s language watchdog advised Bahlawanian to translate the website into French, which he said would cost him $4,500.

“I talked to my programmer and he gave me a quote that was so expensive that I couldn’t do it all right away, so we started by just putting up a sign saying we are going to build it (the website) in French,” he said.

Bahlawanian, 46, said he was given until July 17 to comply.

But a spokesman for the language watchdog said Thursday it is ready to discuss the situation with him.

“It’s not a fixed deadline,” Jean-Pierre Leblanc said in an interview.

“But it’s important for a consumer to know what’s for sale and what can be bought and websites are subject to the law.”

Leblanc also pointed out that 98 per cent of files are usually settled without any further action being taken.

Bahlawanian suggested the province should come up with ways to help businesses deal with language laws in Quebec.

“They should have financial incentives and support systems for these small businesses,” he said.

“That’s the best way to keep the French language going so that businesses like me don’t need to dig into their pockets to do the translations.”

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