Revitalize, rejuvenate, refresh, renew.
Pick one from the Thesaurus and use it to describe what is happening at the Estevan Shoppers Mall these past few months.
With a host of new retail outlets, a repaving project underway and soon another new neighbour in the form of a Tim Hortons outlet on the eastern edge of the parking lot, you get an indication that something exciting is happening.
“We're re-excavating and repaving 64,000 square feet of the parking lot,” said mall manager Mike Pickering who added that the mall is also constructing a new access drive between them and nearby Canadian Tire. They already have the Saskatchewan Liquor Board retail store across the lot. Bumper fences are being installed in concert with the new driveways to promote traffic control and safety.
“Linking the two lots will be an advantage for all of us,” said Pickering.
Less than three years ago, the mall might have been described as a moribund entity sitting along King Street as a not-so-useful appendage to the city's retail community.
The mall's ownership group, Commerce Capital of Winnipeg, have invested over $2.5 million in the mall, giving it a fresh new look inside as well as a lift in areas that customers don't see such as new roofing, as well as that $700,000 in parking lot asphalt, which they do see.
As a result of this additional drive, the mall, that was beginning to look tired in 2009, now has an exuberance about it thanks to 24 retail outlets that Pickering said brings it close to 100 per cent capacity.
Some of the recently added outlets are national chains/franchises while others are independents.
“We have the Lunch Box back in operation at the kiosk in the mall centre, Dolly Sue's Boutique and Salon, Sport Chek which takes up over 10,000 square feet, Work Warehouse, another 10,000 square feet, Eclipse, which is a chain operation. MoneyMart is coming, and that's just naming a few plus there is Sobey's next door and The Brick anchoring the east side,” said Pickering.
The freshened look includes all kinds of traditional as well as new promotional ideas and plans, flowing from marketing director Jane Howard, who has been exploring the mall's community involvement for the past year. Pickering arrived on the scene in late November last year to help steer the whole program forward after a lengthy career in administration and management with Zellers and more recently with Grower Direct Flowers in Weyburn and Estevan.
More traffic because of Tim Hortons will mean more potential traffic for the mall and everyone should have ample space to either park or drive through.
“We'll be monitoring traffic around and through here after Hortons gets up and operating which will probably be around October,” said Pickering. He doesn't foresee any traffic jams or parking dilemmas surfacing, especially after the repaving is completed.
“The mall is accessible to the Comp School and Spectra Place and with new tenants, we're excited about the retail opportunities this fall season with a growing city accompanied by our basic and cosmetic upgrades to the mall,” said Pickering.
“We're also working the social media more aggressively,” said Howard. “We'll have our Mall Kids program, Santa's Breakfast again and we're hooking up with the Estevan Humane Society to help them with next year's Dog Jog and we'll also partner with the local food bank. Then there is a radiothon for the St. Joseph's Hospital Foundation and Relay for Life events ... so it's a physical and social upgrade project too,” Howard added. “I'm seeing a lot of entrepreneurship and drive in the business world around this city.”
She noted the mall is still available for home-based businesses to make a foray into leased space for prime seasons and the Jobs Fair that was held last year was very successful. Howard said they are still getting requests associated with that event.
“The challenge is to make sure the attitude towards the mall is shifted for sure toward the positive and the only way we do that is by getting the word out there that this is more than a place to go and pay your phone bill,” said Pickering.
There are growing pains to be sure, but Pickering and Howard said they much prefer that over the pains of seeing outlets closing doors.
There are still the questions of hours of operation to sort out. Some national chains like to remain open longer and more days while the independents need to close during some of those extended hours.
“National or independents, they'll do what they do now. Some will be open during late hours or early hours; customers will eventually dictate what happens in a 24-hour cycle,” said Pickering.
“These are societal changes,” said Howard. “The city has to change, and it is evolving.”
Pickering added that the mall owners and management are obviously excited about continuing growth potential for the entire city and region as Estevan becomes a true retail trading centre.
“It becomes a self-feeding situation. They're building 1,700 new homes or living units around here and we know that once you spike upward, you never ever really slide right back when there is a downturn. You may come back a bit, but never fall back as far as you had been at the start, so this is another good example of that,” said Pickering. “It's a cultural change, a business change.”
Howard said the presence of Spectra Place has already boosted Estevan's image and cultural persona to a new level that can't possibly recede to the old days ever again.
“We're seeing some fresh new dynamics and young business people taking hold of Estevan with new ideas for business and community growth. Everyone is adapting to the new normal,” Howard said.
“So we are a part of that change. We expect to finish out front and we'll even celebrate that fact with a relaunch of the mall once all this work is completed. We have requests from several national retail chains ... more major players wanting to get into Estevan. The new strip mall off Kensington doesn't hurt us, it just indicates that there is good demand. They'll grow, we're growing. Competition just helps you run a little faster. Downtown Estevan offers unique products and services. I see a very good mix of business and services in Estevan,” said Pickering, commenting on the geographic locations as well as the products being offered.
“We like where we're heading and we've already come a long way. We felt it was a good idea to get the word out that there is a new look and a new attitude around this place,” said Pickering.
And with that, there is the hope or the expectation that it will continue to attract current as well as new visitors and customers.