The downtown Cityplace mall is on the rebound, boasting its highest occupancy rate in years thanks to a recent influx of new, locally owned retail outlets ranging from unique furniture stores to art and photo galleries.
Seven new outlets have opened within the last few weeks in the mall, which occupies the first two floors of the nine-storey Cityplace office/retail/parkade complex at 333 St. Mary Ave. And an eighth is scheduled to open later this month.
The new additions boost the mall’s occupancy rate to 96.5 per cent. That’s up from about 88 per cent about six months ago, according to Cheryl Roney, director of leasing and marketing for Triovest Realty Advisors Inc., which manages the mall, the attached office tower and parkade.
"I don’t think we’ve ever been this full in the retail area," Roney said during a recent interview, although she noted there are also a few office tenants in the mall portion of the building.
Two of the new retail tenants — VanJohan for Men and Motio Massage Therapy — are participants in the latest round of the Downtown Winnipeg Business Improvement Zone’s Launch It! program for young entrepreneurs. A third, Charlie Johnston’s C5 Art Shop, was also referred to Cityplace by the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ, although it’s not part of the Launch It! program.
Another two — Robert Lowdon Gallery and Living Edge Furnishings — are recent graduates of Centre–Venture’s Pop Up Shop Hop (PUSH) program. The Launch It! and PUSH programs pair up-and-coming local entrepreneurs who want to try their hand at running a bricks-and-mortar store in the downtown with vacant retail spaces in the area. They also provide rent subsidies and other assistance. The hope is that some or all of the participants will go on to find spaces of their own downtown and that the participating landlords will also attract longer-term tenants for their spaces.
The other new Cityplace tenants were recruited by Roney as part of her ongoing efforts to attract more entrepreneurial-style, locally owned retailers to the mall.
Roney said these retailers often offer unique products that aren’t found in the suburban malls and can help attract more shoppers to Cityplace and downtown. Surveys also have shown a growing number of Manitobans want to shop at locally owned stores and support local businesses, she added, "so we’re going to continue to search for new businesses that provide an interesting shopping experience."
She said some of the new tenants have signed longer-term leases, while others have opted for short- or medium-term deals.
"The shorter-term leases actually work out well for both of us because they get to try us out and we get to try them out and see how the fit is for both of us," she said, adding the hope is it works out well for both and the tenants end up signing longer-term leases.
Downtown Winnipeg BIZ executive director Stefano Grande praised Cityplace not only for making space available to Launch It! participants, but also for its own efforts to lure more unique, locally owned retailers to the downtown.
"We know... the next generation of retailing is coming from our millennials, from young people that have nothing but positive things (to say) about the downtown," he said. "They don’t have this memory of what it used to be 40 or 50 years ago. All they see is opportunity."
He said the BIZ is talking to two other young entrepreneurs who have expressed an interest in participating in leasing space in the Cityplace mall through the Launch It! program, but negotiations are ongoing.
He said while the Launch It! and PUSH programs are doing their part to help attract more retailers downtown, in this case it’s also "about Cityplace engaging the community, engaging artists and engaging entrepreneurs, and really starting to reposition itself for today’s market."
CentreVenture president and CEO Angela Mathieson said it’s encouraging to see two PUSH graduates leasing their own space in Cityplace. She also said Living Edge Furnishings owner Ryan Henderson, who makes one-of-a-kind furniture out of reclaimed wood, is a good example of the kind of retailers that can help revitalize downtown.
"We think that really, the future is to bring more up-and-coming, unique retailers downtown, and it’s happening," she said.
"If you’ve got only one store... with an attractive product, people are going to come downtown for it because they can’t get it anywhere else."
For about 2½ months prior to moving to Cityplace, Henderson and Robert Lowdon Gallery owner Robert Lowdon shared PUSH program space at 389 Graham Ave. Their concepts worked so well together, they’re sharing a space in Cityplace as well.
They said their stores did well on Graham Avenue, and they were contemplating staying there when Roney offered them space in Cityplace. They said the terms of the lease were favourable, so they jumped at the chance to move into an enclosed mall. While it’s still early days, the move is already paying dividends.
"On a busy day in this store... we’re probably getting as many people as we did in about a week in the Graham Avenue store," Henderson said.
Because their new space is about three times bigger than the Graham Avenue space, Lowdon said they’ve invited several other local artists and furniture makers to display some of their products in their store.
"It’s kind of neat, because... everything for sale (in the store) was made right here in Winnipeg," Lowdon added.
Roney said another contributor to Cityplace’s rebound is the major renovation and upgrade of the mall’s common areas, which was completed in late 2015.
"Every mall needs to update every once in a while to stay current," she explained, noting the last major renovation was in the mid-1990s. "It attracts other tenants and it attracts customers."
She said the mall still has four vacant spaces ranging in size from 350 to 2,000 square feet. It also has one vacant spot in the second-floor food court, although she has a tentative deal with another prospective tenant for that space.