COLUMN: Royal City Centre's success a moving Target?
Ask my four-year-old son the best thing about Royal City Centre, and he won’t hesitate: that little ice cream truck next to Dollarama.
As he dishes out imaginary cones to passersby, I watch from a bench and sometimes turn to the person beside me and ask what they think of the mall.
“Kind of sad.”
That sums up my unscientific research, but I’d guess most people in New West are disappointed in the place.
Oh, there are a few decent shops and all that. But the energy—or lack thereof—is undeniable.
Wouldn’t it be great to have a vibrant, busy mall in the heart of Uptown?
For long-time residents the feeling might be even stronger. It’s possible that some still say “I’m going up to Woodward’s” out of habit when they go to Royal City Centre—a reference to one of the region’s most popular department stores at a time when department stores were king.
Today, the rumour mill is grinding overtime with suggestions that the venerable U.S. discount retailer Target is coming to the vacant space once occupied by Zellers.
Funny how some things don’t change. Back in the early ’50s, local historian Archie Miller tells me, all the talk was about a mystery retailer coming to town. At the time, there was an Eatons on Columbia Street, and of course the Army & Navy.
But a new department store? Would it be Hudson’s Bay? Woodward’s? Downtown? Uptown?
When the news came out and Woodward’s set up shop Uptown at Sixth and Sixth, everything followed. Shops, the city’s first towers in the area—it was the place to be.
The special “$1.49 day” sale at Woodward’s, often held a few weeks before Christmas and during back-to-school season, was something to behold, Archie told me.
“It was a madhouse. It was just chaos. Everybody went there to do their shopping.”
It was a different era, of course.
Before the big-box retailers. And it was only at the end of the Woodward’s era that Metrotown came along. The end of Woodward’s in 1993 led to Zellers in New West, which kind of duct-taped the mall together.
But the mall’s fortunes dovetailed with Zeddy and Zellers shut in 2006, and the top level of the mall switched to office space and Labels and Dollarama eventually took over the main floor while Dynamic Health took over the atrium.
At the time, Bart Slotman of Uptown Property Group, which (among other things) runs the mall with London Drugs and Save On Foods on Sixth Street, said Zellers was a “junior department store” unable to generate sufficient traffic flow to anchor a mall of this size. In the long run, he said, Zellers’ closure could be good news.
One thing’s for sure: as much as people bemoan the sad state of Royal City Centre, everyone’s rooting for it. When the mall owners came to city hall recently with plans to renovate the old Zellers space for a mystery tenant, hopes again ran high.
Will it be Target? Canadian Tire is also rolling out smaller-format stores in response to Target’s arrival, which could also be a possibility. Who knows.
There’s a lot counting on this.
As long as the ice cream truck stays, I know my family will still be stopping by.
• Chris Bryan is editor of the NewsLeader.