Last week the Duke of Data, Director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University Andy Yan and I ventured to do some retail market research at Tsawwassen Mills Mall. I have written about this merchandising mega mall since before its inception and covered its opening day. The CBC interviewed retail consultant David Gray four years ago who said
“It’s not going to be a slam dunk They’re not going to be a convenience mall or mall for locals. Sure, locals will shop there, but for them to be successful, they’re going to be what’s known as a destination mall or a mall where people are going to make some pretty major time investments for their shopping trips.”
Mr. Gray was right. The mall has had challenges attracting staff and now provides buses for employees to get to the mall and back. And while there was a burst of interest when the mall first opened, it has not been able to keep all the shops open with approximately 20 percent creatively shuttered behind facade treatment that blend into the mall decor.
A walk around the mall does provide 2.5 kilometers of walking. But it is a huge space to maintain with 1,100,000 square feet and has 188 storefronts.
At the time of opening the mall, which is the third in the Ivanhoe Cambridge mega mall stable along with Cross Iron Mills near Calgary and Vaughan Mills near Toronto hopes were higher for retail success. Ivanhoe Cambridge saw this location as centred in the third largest urban area in Canada, and felt that traffic would come from all over the region. With the mall’s location near the ferry terminal and connecting to Highway 99, customers spend the most time at the mall than any other in the developer’s portfolio, 113 minutes.
But think of that~they have driven 30 minutes if they came from Vancouver, and just the size of the mall means that you are spending a lot of time just traversing the place from one store to another.
Out of all Ivanhoe Cambridge’s Canadian retail holdings Tsawwassen Mills brings in the lowest sales per square foot at $377 per square foot. In comparison, Vaughan Mills in Toronto with 1.276,324 square feet and 216 stores brings in $886 per square foot, while Calgary’s Cross Iron Mills brings in $689 per square foot with 191 stores and 1,161,065 square feet. These figures are data from December 2019. They are pre-Covid statistics.
Patrick Sisson with Bloomberg describes what has happened at the Alderwood Mall in Lynnwood near Seattle which has become a 300 unit apartment complex that will augment a lower square footage of retail. Instead of seeing this as a new trend it is the acceleration of a current trend, to live in walkable places close to shops and services. Already real estate groups with shopping centre holdings are planning on mixed use developments instead of the mono economy of retail. Since the recession of 2008 retailing has completely recovered to have the same number of shops as before the crisis.
One analyst describes it as “Before the Great Recession we had too many retail spaces; now we have way too many retail spaces. The outdoor lifestyle centers will survive — they’re perceived as safer than indoors. But it’s hard to escape the fact that we’ve trained people to fear the world, and that it’s going to have long-term impacts on their behaviors.”
Adapting retail space in malls to residential or even warehouse space will be the next challenge in mall design.
“The mall may be evolving, but the desire, and challenges, in creating a community-oriented development still remain.”