The CBC weighs in on the recent news that the Sears department stores are having a financial challenge and may be looking at how to rebrand and/or restructure. Dianne Buckner notes that the typical mall design incorporated two large anchor stores in a mall, with the concept that shoppers would support the anchors’ stores and then browse and support the smaller shops.
Consumer habits are changing and the CEO of RioCan Real Estate Investment Trust which owns 300 mall type properties in Canada suggests that “secondary” malls are slowly expiring. The “primary”  “malls such as Toronto’s Eaton Centre, Calgary’s Chinook Centre or Vancouver’s Pacific Centre will always thrive, thanks to their size and location. But smaller, suburban malls won’t make it unless they reinvent themselves.”
As reported in Price Tags earlier this year, major mall holders including Ivanhoe Cambridge have been investigating building mixed use development around their shopping activities to reinforce their asset and to respond to the strong housing market.The massive, free parking lots that malls provide could be more profitable as mixed-use developments that also include offices and residences, along with regular retail.
As stated in Ms. Buchner’s article “A lot of those projects are right at the application stage and we’re going to see a building boom in mixed-use development at these shopping malls over the next five to 10 years.”  Similar to the marketing strategy employed by Starbucks, “experiential retail” built around a profoundly unique environment and experience will be the next level of  directed consumer shopping.
Examples such as “The Well” in Toronto include condos, a movie theater, a book store, restaurant and public spaces. “Market places” will provide a more European shopping experience with different retailers and food products all in one area.
Whether this will be enough to recharge retail with the changes in the way people are now purchasing products online remains to be seen. The repurposing of suburban malls as potential housing sites will provide some density to support local market retailing and provide some breathing room for continued commercial retail.


  1. Big concert tours are back again. More musicians are performing live more often. Big outdoor music festivals are as popular as ever.
    Because the retail component of the music industry is almost exclusively on-line. There isn’t even the experience of going to the record store, listening to something you might not have heard before as you browse through and actually handle what you might purchase. Where you can talk to knowledgeable staff who might point you toward other possibilities you had no idea about.
    There are a lot of people who prefer experience over stuff.
    My biggest criticism of mall-to-town-centre conversions is that the entire huge swath of property usually remains private. Municipalities should always negotiate public ROWs through these sites in exchange for the massive development and profits.

    1. Perhaps so many malls are so successful because municipalities are not involved ?
      Public sites tend to attract not only the best, but also the worst of society as we see daily in downtown Vancouver. Most malls would never allow sleepovers, beggars, dogs, dirty smelly people and/or aggregation of suspicious looking folks. Most malls also cater to a certain segment of society, ie high end, middle or lower end .. and as such are successful as a muni can’t really do that.
      As to the death of the sub-urban mall: I think that is primarily a function of supply and demand as many locations have too many malls or too much retail space. Mixed use in the right mix and right location makes a lot of sense. Many formerly vibrant downtowns of smaller towns are dying because the town allowed too much retail on the edge of town. As such, again, muni involvement is not necessarily the best here either.

      1. In other words, malls are fake places. They can’t be replicated across society because they are exclusive. A healthy society has to be inclusive, warts and all. An even healthier society helps the less fortunate rather than make disparaging comments about them.
        If experience is becoming more important than stuff, as many suggest, malls offer a sterile, fake experience that will become increasingly more boring as certain behaviours get increasingly filtered out. You can’t recognize good if there is no bad. In desperation they’ll add water parks and roller coasters. But the fake sterility remains. Great for little kids I suppose.
        Real public urban centres and high streets are making a comeback in North America after being pummeled by the safe, sterility of malls for decades. They aren’t being battered by e-commerce like the malls are.
        Maybe a lot of people actually want genuine experience. Warts and all.

        1. Anything man-made is fake, I guess ? Only nature is real ?
          Why shall mankind not design places for a certain group only ? That is what businesses do ALL THE TIME. A Tesla is not for everyone as it costs $100,000. A retail store selling shoes for women is only for women. Others stores cater to teenagers, gays, mature adults, Chinese, meat eaters or music lovers. That is totally normal.
          There is room for downtowns, of course. There is room for messy smelly places, too, and room for high end malls. It is a big world, with many people from different cultures. It is NOT the role of government to prescribe what I like and dislike and where I prefer to shop.

      2. Thomas, the biggest malls on the Burrard peninsula are the result of negotiation over density a height with cities, which is usually traded for public amenities. They have also capitalized greatly on a public facility called rapid transit.
        Suburban malls cannot compete.

        1. With respect to transients and “undesirables,” the suburbs produce enough bored troublemakers and horny stoner youth to cause multiple hundreds of millions in damage and years of court costs from rioting in the big city after major hockey games. They also populate the notorious drunken party zone on Granville St in great numbers every weekend, which has cost Vancouver taxpayers tens of millions in policing costs ever since the city was goaded into creating a stupid ‘Entertainment Zone’ by comments from promoters about being a “no fun city.”
          Maybe it’s time to take their version of “fun” to the suburbs. We Vancouverites can’t afford it anymore.

        2. Yes, that “sin tax” is levvied on booze and property taxes that are typically higher downtown Vancouver than suburban Tsawwassen. These taxes pay for the “damage” or cost of cleanup.
          I doubt that suburban youth parties more or causes more damages than downtown youth. Every society has their share of riff-raff.
          Sears is dying because it has no vision among diversified malls. It competes against lower end malls, middle end malls and online shopping. There is no brand value here, unlike Nordstorm or Holt Renfrew, for example ! The suburban mall is not dying as long as people live there and the area is growing and has $s to spend due to jobs and taxation that is not too high, although Sears likely will die.

        3. The Stanley Cup riots resulted in court cases that went on for years beyond the initial policing costs and street damage. The preponderance of defendents were from the suburbs, as were the most egregious incidents, damages and assaults. Some notables were from Vancouver, but that was a truly regional incident where Vancouver bore all the impact and the majority of costs.
          One thing that really stands out is the stupidity of rioters who were captured on social and MS media proudly in the act. Another is the mixed at best, but overall exceedingly poor contribution stadia and big bars / clubs have to creating a healthy society.

    2. @ Ron, I’m not convinced that online music availability has specifically driven the public to live concerts just for the experience, though that is a factor. The main influence is the downloading of music which has cut deeply into publisher’s and artist’s profits and revenue. The issue before that was the contractual control publishers had over musicians — some called it strangulation, and many started publishing their own songs. The musicians now have more impetus and control when they promote live concerts because they cut out the recording industry (unless the concert itself is recorded), and their percentage is a lot higher. I once read that the Rolling Stones last world tour netted them over US$400 million. Paul McCartney was able to pay off his 8-figure divorce settlement with Heather Mills from the profits of one limited subsequent live concert tour.
      On bringing the public realm into what is now exclusively private, I agree. In fact, that should be made a requirement if a rapid transit station is placed near or in the mall. I think there is great potential for glassed-over public pedestrian streets and lanes, and for using public amenities like transit stations, libraries, community centres and so on as anchors in counterpoint to private stores.

  2. As a side note, The Well in Toronto is on the fringe of their downtown core (not in suburbia) – it’s at Front and Spadina across the street from CityPlace (Concord’s railway lands redevelopment).
    For those supporting large mixed use developments, which is the trending evolution, could you ever imagine such a large comprehensive mixed development being built on the downtown Vancouver peninsula?
    In terms of new projects on the downtown fringes, the closest we have is Burrard Gateway, but that’s no where as big as The Well, an alley runs through it and doesn’t create an interior retail mall/streetscape.
    The Post Office redevelopment largely has outward facing retail, with very little interior gathering space (just escalators up and down from the glorified west lobby concourse).
    Holborn’s Bay Parkade site is probably the only large site left close to the CBD, and if the alley is allowed to be closed and service access moved underground, like Pacific Centre, then there’s potential for a large public space mid-site (the Telus Garden alley “beautification” is an obvious failure and should not be copied).
    Bing Thom’s Broadway & Commercial project, with plans just released, would provide an ideal location – next to 2 SkyTrain lines – but it does not have large scale office use in the mix.

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