The Death and Life of Great Canadian Malls
Canadians continue to spend more than Americans, and US retailers are watching closely
Illustration Kyle Metcalf
Ladies and gentlemen, start your cash registers. December means it’s the heart of the holiday shopping season, and while Canadians increasingly rely on e-commerce (spending $2.8 billion last December, a 26 per cent year-over-year increase), there’s no need to give mall merchants the Tiny Tim treatment yet. They’re doing just fine, thank you – better than ever, in fact.
Edmonton’s iconic West Edmonton Mall, for example, is in the process of reinventing itself, moving away from a place populated largely by malingering teenagers and vacationing families and into a premiere shopping destination. Last year it added the first La Maison Simons location outside of Quebec to its roster (and it already included luxe shops like Anthropologie and Hugo Boss), while it brought Tiffany & Co. on board this year. As a result, the mall’s sales are up to $745 per square foot, a sharp increase from the $450 per square foot it registered during the depths of the recession. It’s not done yet, either– president David Ghermezian has said he’s courting high-end American retailers like Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue in the hopes of driving that figure up to $1,000 per square foot.
Cashing in on Canadians
Target, Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue – the list of American retailers coming to Canadian malls grows by the day. And it’s no wonder. Mall sales in Canada averaged almost US$600 in sales per square foot in 2011, while they came in at just US$400 south of the border. Economists have explained some of this difference away with the rise in the Canadian dollar against the greenback (from under 60 cents to parity and beyond in less than a decade), but there’s also something of a chicken-and-egg quality to the arrival of high-profile American retailers and the influence that’s had on our spending habits. Yes, we spend more than Americans, but that might be because we’re anxious to experience brands that they’re already familiar with.
Bigger isn’t always better
At 3.77 million square feet (or 350,000 square metres) of leasable space, West Edmonton Mall is still the biggest in North America. But on a global scale, it’s only 12th biggest, tied with the Dubai Mall in the United Arab Emirates. The biggest is in China, of course – the New South China Mall (below), which was built in 2005 in Dongguan and is more than twice as big as WEM. The weird thing? It’s been 99 per cent vacant since 2005.
West Edmonton Mall might be generating more sales, but it’s still not among the most lucrative in North America. That list is conspicuously flush with Canadian names
- Pacific Centre, Vancouver: $1,580/sq. ft.
- Caesars Palace, Las Vegas: $1,470/sq. ft.
- Toronto Eaton Centre, Toronto: $1,320/sq. ft.
- Yorkdale Shopping Centre, Toronto: $1,300/sq. ft.
- Ala Moana Centre, Honolulu: $1,250/sq. ft.
- Oakridge Shopping Centre, Vancouver: $1,200/sq. ft.
- Chinook Centre, Calgary: $1,055/sq. ft.
- Mall at Short Hills, New Jersey: $1,050/sq. ft.
- Mall at Millenia, Orlando: $1,040/sq. ft.
- Rideau Centre, Ottawa: $1,020/sq. ft.
- Sherway Gardens, Toronto: $950/sq. ft.
- Fairview Mall, Toronto: $880/sq. ft.
- Fashion Valley Shopping Centre, San Diego: $875/sq. ft.
- Peter Pond Mall, Fort McMurray: $850/sq. ft.
- Garden State Plaza, New Jersey: $750/sq. ft.