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Reitmans has announced it will leave the Centre Square Mall for the Frame Lake area this spring the latest in a long series of stores to recently move out of the struggling downtown mall. - Guy Quenneville/NNSL photo

Centre Square Mall loses another store

Guy Quenneville
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, February 2, 2011

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - It's been a bad month for the Centre Square Mall.

Reitmans, a major commercial retailer in the mall's lower level, confirmed last Friday it will leave the embattled downtown shopping complex for the uptown Frame Lake Shopping Centre this spring.

At the Old Airport Road location, Reitmans will join other stores such as Curves, Staples, Quiznos and, in the coming months, The Brick.

The news came mere days after Yellowknife's only music store, CD Plus, announced it will close for good late next month, and two weeks after longtime tenant Grower Direct moved all of its operations to the Stanton Plaza, also uptown.

The number of businesses leaving the Centre Square Mall has one current tenant, the owner of Gary's Barber Shop, "very concerned."

"The mall's going downhill," said Rose Thorpe, whose hair studio has been a longtime occupant of the shopping centre. "It's getting really scary."

Saul Schipper, vice president of real estate for Reitmans, said his store's move to the former home of VHQ Movie Gallery (which closed in August) was in the works for at least a year.

"The sense is that there's more shopping (there)," he said of the Frame Lake area. "The residential (area) is going to be picking up more speed compared to the downtown core."

The company was looking to expand the size of its Yellowknife franchise, he added.

"We're looking to have a bigger store, which is what we're going to be having now."

Reitmans' floor space will increase to more than 4,000 square feet from 3,200, he said.

For Richard Birch, co-owner of Grower Direct - also known as Rebecca's Flowers - high rent and declining customer traffic definitely factored into his decision to leave the mall.

"The mall isn't exactly what you'd call business-conducive these days," said Birch, adding about its patrons, "the majority of them are a bunch of street drunks and the teenagers.

"They're really not paying customers for anybody.

"For the exorbitant rates of rent we have to pay, it's just not worth it."

Since consolidating to his uptown location, business has boomed, he added.

"It's been two weeks now since we stopped doing business down there in the mall and our business has just increased here tremendously. Our people ... most of them like this side of town anyway."

The last two years has seen an increasing number of businesses exit the Centre Square Mall, including the Bank of Montreal, Headgear, Barren Land Jewelry, and Jan's Cards and Gifts.

"I'm always concerned, but unfortunately, it's just part of doing business," said Derek Carmody, who manages the Yellowknife Inn and the adjoining upper level of the mall for Royal Host Real Estate Investment Trust.

Carmody said he believes individual circumstances unrelated to the mall account for Grower Direct's recent departure and the imminent closing of CD Plus.

Neither Richmond, B.C.-based Huntingdon Real Estate Investment Trust - which owns the lower level - nor its property manager, Shawnette MacNeil, could be reached for comment.

Thorpe recently moved her barbershop from the upper level to the bottom floor. She said the move was due to high rent and poor relations between her and Royal Host.

"They treated me like crap," she said, adding that she hasn't signed a lease with Huntington. "I don't want to sign a lease. I don't want to be stuck in the mall."

Despite his flower shop's recent blooming, Birch said part of him does miss the mall, where Grower Direct got its start.

"There are a number of people that we really enjoyed," he said. "We worked also in trying to help a lot of street people."

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