Original Published on Sep 04, 2022 at 12:04
By Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
THUNDER BAY, ONT. — Intercity Shopping Centre rebounding after two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. New stores are filling the vacancies left in the wake of the pandemic and annual events are being inked back onto the schedule.
Stacey Ball, general manager of the shopping centre, says the mall has always been a place to shop, meet and gather.
“We’re a place to do so many more things,” Ball said. “It was a challenging couple of years for sure. COVID certainly presented some challenges for us, but we are well on the way to recovery. Thankfully, our sales are actually up over 2019, which was the last full year, pre-COVID. Our traffic is still down a little bit but the people that are here are here to shop.”
Ball says this year is the “first and true” back-to-school season they have had since 2019 and the stores are experiencing better sales than they expected.
Gazing over the mall’s leasing plan, Ball says there have been new store openings and plenty of shuffling and relocation of business tenants.
Ardene women’s clothing store has relocated into the former Le Chateau spot, and Urban kids, which is new to the centre, has opened in the former Ardene’s location.
“That fills in a little sort of a gap in the tween market with different ages of kids clothing as well,” Ball said.
“We’ve got a new food court tenant opening up within the next week called Sam’s Kitchen and they are in the former Thai Express location.”
In late October or early November, Dollarama will fill 25 per cent of the former Lowe’s space with its eighth store in Thunder Bay, providing about 16 new jobs.
“Thunder Bay is an important market where we want to continue providing existing customers with even more convenience and reach new customers, hence our decision to open a new store location at the Intercity Shopping Centre,” said a Dollarama spokesperson to The Chronicle-Journal.
Ball says it’s exciting to have something going into that vacant space, which will be a new type of business for the centre.
“They will also reopen the mall entrance so there will be a mall connection to the new store,” she said. “There’ll be an exterior entrance on the Fort William Road side as well as the mall entrance, which will create some additional traffic and certainly bring in some different customers to the shopping centre,” she said.
Ball says they do their best to fill vacancies with local content and retailers to provide them with the experience of “life in the shopping centre” and what the customer base is.
“It’s absolutely a good opportunity for us to provide space to these local retailers, as well as fill a vacancy for a period of time,” she said. “We’re very close to being full for the Christmas season with the exception of the anchor spaces and the former Moxies, (restaurant).
Bell says the restaurant business was one of the hardest hit sectors as a result of COVID and Moxies’ lease basically expired just before the pandemic struck.
“They were just remaining in what we call “over hold” and when COVID hit, they completely shut down and they just decided to shut the doors,” she said, adding that The Bannock Lady, who opened in the centre last year, is a welcome addition.
“Any retailer that is choosing Thunder Bay is a win for our community and for our region. We need to focus on the positive, because Thnder Bay is, generally speaking, a remote community with distribution costs and high gas prices. It makes (our city) a little bit more challenging sometimes for some retailers when they’re choosing Thunder Bay, so we need to be supportive and positive.”
Ball says like most businesses, one of the biggest challenges for the shopping centre is a worker shortage.
“I don’t think there’s an industry out there right now that doesn’t have a worker shortage or is having to modify their hours or their offerings as a result of it,” she said. “All of that, combined with the influenza season starting up, is going to result in some further challenges and we’re very mindful of that. Everyone is doing their best to provide the best service that they can.”
With nearly 95 businesses operating in the shopping centre, Ball says they are connected to the major chains across North America bringing the latest and best offerings for any shopper in the community.
They work together with the Thunder Centre, which provides more independent-access stores adjacent to the Intercity mall.
“We complement each other,” she said. “When people are coming to shop, we’re all in very close proximity so we benefit from their traffic and they benefit from our traffic.”
Annual holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas are around the corner led by back-to-school shopping, which is starting to fill the mall with shoppers. Bell said they are ready to offer the “full Santa experience” this season.
“In fact, we just purchased a new Santa set which will be unveiled this holiday season when Santa will arrive around the third Saturday in November,” she said. “We are also hoping the Thunder Bay Firefighters (Toys for Tots) and the Salvation Army Kettle campaigns will be back and even the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre 50-50 draw (kiosk) like they have been in past years.”