Chain brand, outdoor access define mall success

Tour shows that independent retailers, interior mall locations bear brunt of pandemic

Business in Vancouver
November 17, 2020

Park Royal: 20 vacant stores inside West Van mall.| Chung Chow
— Park Royal: 20 vacant stores inside West Van mall.| Chung Chow

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected different retail areas to different degrees, and a recent tour of Metro Vancouver’s higher-end shopping malls shows the type of businesses that are the most vulnerable.

Cadillac Fairview’s CF Pacific Centre in downtown Vancouver, for example, appears relatively unscathed in terms of spaces left empty by vacated businesses. As of November 10, there were only three spaces left unoccupied among the shopping centre’s more than 100 stores. Of note, all three of the vacated store spaces are on the mall’s first floor – which is one level below the mall’s second floor that opens onto street-level access on downtown’s main Georgia Street thoroughfare. That means the spaces that were vacated tend to be concentrated in an underground area, including a space vacated by a previous Microsoft Store, which was directly below anchor tenant Nordstrom.

In comparison, the empty storefront count at another high-end mall – West Vancouver’s sprawling Park Royal Shopping Centre – is significantly higher. As of November 9, there were 20 empty store spaces that did not have signage of another tenant opening shortly among the total of approximately 280 businesses in the north, south and Village portions of the Park Royal complex.

The empty spaces at the West Vancouver mall tell a similar story to the vacancies at Pacific Centre, which is that a certain demographic of stores appears to be much more vulnerable to the economic pressures created by the lower pandemic-economy foot-traffic.

For instance, Park Royal is among the few local malls that have both traditional indoor mall areas and manicured outdoor spaces akin to what can be seen in places like Whistler Village.

Among the 20 empty spaces at the shopping complex, 70% (14) were found in indoor mall areas.

By far the highest concentration of empty stores can be found on the first floor of Park Royal South. It has eight empty spaces, and as many as half of them are concentrated in a long concourse area leading away from the mall’s multi-floor central plaza towards Simons at the west end of Park Royal South.

For Park Royal North, all four of its empty store spaces are indoors; all of its outdoor-facing spaces are occupied and operating.

The empty stores also appear to confirm the fact that small- to medium-sized retailers are less equipped to withstand the pandemic’s economic hardships.

According to a survey by Colliers International, released November 15,  10 per cent of Canada’s retail tenants are working on plans to permanently close their businesses and six out of ten of these are independent retailers.

Of the three empty spaces at Pacific Centre and the 20 at Park Royal, none were anchor-tenants; outside of a few instances (i.e. Park Royal North’s vacated Steve Nash Fitness World location), most are small or medium-sized retail spaces. •

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