Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 5/9/2019 (993 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
When Polo Park Shopping Centre opened in 1959 featuring "40 Fine Stores," the idea of going shopping somewhere other than downtown was still a pretty novel concept.
In the 60 years since then, Polo Park has remained one of the most functional and successful retail properties in the country. In an era of syndication of real estate ownership, it is a rarity that Cadillac Fairview, the company that developed the shopping centre on the site of the old Polo Park Racetrack, has remained the sole owner of the property.
The mall is marking the anniversary with a modest photo installation near the north end of the main floor, but general manager Peter Havens is well aware that the history and significance Polo Park has in the community makes it more than just as a place to go shopping.
(Anniversary incentives are being offered at the customer service desk, including a $25 gift pack at Kiehl’s with every $100 Polo Park gift card.)
"Polo Park is such a dominant centre," Havens said. "It’s one of the things we try to do... create a place for people to come, not only to shop, but to spend some time, see friends, go for dinner, catch a movie. It is more than just a sum of the parts."
The evolution of the North American shopping mall has almost come full circle. Winnipeggers would never tell you the city is over-retailed, but many other communities in North America have experienced that. Images of hollowed-out shopping malls in middle America, repurposed as community centres or office spaces, are now familiar.
The phenomenon of e-commerce and online shopping has shaken the foundations of the bricks-and-mortar retail industry. Not to say it has not affected Polo Park — which has seen anchor tenants like Zellers and Sears forced to close up shop in recent years — but the mall has become such a reliable property that Havens says those closures are a chance to do something new.
"When Zellers closed, we made the loop (with new configured space and several new storefronts), and now the next opportunity coming up is with our Sears space," Havens said. "Things just keep evolving."
But Polo Park hangs in there, aided by the demographics and stability of the Manitoba economy and a willingness to continue to change. The site of the former Polo Park Racetrack opened with two parallel shopping strips perpendicular to Portage Avenue and became only the second enclosed mall in the country in 1963.
A major expansion that added a second floor was completed in 1986, and since then, it became a shopping destination for the entire province.
With 1.2 million square feet of space on a 56-acre site, it is listed as the 16th largest mall in the country in one recent reference and the third oldest among the 20 largest. It’s now grown to 170 stores with respectable average sales per square foot of $881. In comparison, Cadillac Fairview’s Eaton Centre in downtown Toronto has 210 stores and $1,615 per square foot in sales. That downtown mall has 1,411 parking spots, to Polo Park’s 5,813.
Another major expansion was completed in 2008 that pushed the building out a little on the north end, and the redevelopment of the over 200,000-square-foot former Sears store will cause the next iteration of the mall.
Havens said it’s not likely that a single tenant would take over the entire Sears space that covers two floors plus a full basement.
"We are working on it right now and I expect to see some activity in the near future," he said. "We’re very excited for that. It will be the next evolution of Polo Park."
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.