There may be hope for aging urban malls.
By Letter to the Editor
Published February 15, 2006
I remember Jackson Square as a busy vibrant place during the 1980s (I know what you're thinking: mall and vibrant in the same sentence, come on!).
I also remember that during the nineties, Jackson Square seemed to take a turn for the worse. A lot of stores closed, including many of the large chain clothing outlets that are the main stay of every mall in Canada: the Gap, Eddie Bauer, Club Monaco and of course Eaton's.
I've shopped in the Hamilton area all of my life and I've never much cared for malls, but recent trips to Jackson Square have been surprisingly worthwhile. It appears that much of the void left by the closing of the traditional chain stores has been filled by independently owned stores that seem to cater more to the multi-ethnic character of Hamilton than the last batch of shops (with the obvious exception of Benetton, where race met commerce and they both suddenly got boring).
Today there are a variety of choices in food, clothing and price that weren't present in "Ye Olde" Jackson Square. There's an oriental candy and snack shop, a number of "Hip Hop" clothiers and even a small Chinese grocery. It seems as busy and "vibrant" as it did when I was a child.
But all of this retail reminiscence has left me with two questions: 1) why exactly did Jackson Square undergo this turnaround, and 2) is it possible that malls don't have to suck?
My best guess as to the reason for Jackson Squares remarkable turnaround is that in the past, many of the stores probably left because they weren't profitable, and after a few hard years the mall reduced the rents and the small businesses moved in. That's a complete guess though. I'd like to find out.
As for the broader question about the suck level of the current North American mall: I think that there may be hope for some of our largest public spaces (well pseudo-public, most malls only kick you out if you stare at the Benetton ads too long), and that the municipalities and the academic circles that deal with our spaces should be encouraged to look for ways of rejuvenating the many old and out of favour malls.
Anybody been to the Centre Mall or to Toronto's Warden Woods recently? How about replacing vacant anchor stores with farmers' markets, libraries, campuses or community flea markets?
I know that malls aren't exactly at the top of everyone's urban "fix it" list, but they are a big part of our current culture and urban landscape, and they need to be a part of the current urban renewal discussion.
29 years in Dundas
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