KAMLOOPS - Kamloops' biggest and busiest mall has been a little emptier than usual and some are starting to worry about their businesses.
Stop for a snack and you'll notice a large plot remains vacant, formerly home to Baskin Robbins in the food court. Not too far away, former Extreme Pita also sits empty. It's not all food problems either — walk the lower floor of the mall and find an empty sunglasses kiosk, former Roots, and a seasonal Halloween store where East Side Mario's once twirled pasta.
The Gap Factory Store is coming soon, but that's empty right now too. Hub International and Barton Insurance helped make space for the new store after moving to Sahali Mall, no longer serving Aberdeen Mall patrons. Head upstairs: Glamour Secrets remains closed, Merle Norman closed in August and Master Cuts closed last week. (See map below.)
"I've never seen this mall this empty," says Andrea Johnstone, owner and operator of Orange Julius in Aberdeen Mall.
Johnstone would know more than most, her family has owned the franchise nearly 25 years. She grew up in the mall and has seen stores come and go. She remembers a grocery store, a time you could get convenience items like 'Tums and aspirin' or even just a store exclusively selling men's clothing. Now managing the store, she says the changes have been tough on business, and notes a decline in sales every year she's been owner. She says mall vacancy is partly to blame.
"Unless you need a cellphone or haircut or some jewellery, there's not a lot," she says.
Murdawg Apparel is also expected to close down in October when its lease is up. General manager Sarah Watson says the business has had trouble since it moved from a kiosk in the mall into its own permanent location leased in 2008. The shop was put in a tough spot from the beginning, having to complete renovations during a poor economy.
"It was really hard on us and that was when we moved into this location," she says.
She and two other employees are being laid off, but she also fears for the state of the mall.
"I think the mall's really going downhill," she says, adding she misses the drug store and dollar store. "There's really not much variety."
WHAT'S NEXT FOR ABERDEEN MALL?
The mall underwent new ownership and management in April. Mall general manager Sandra Desrosiers says it's business as usual.
"It's unfortunate timing," she says of the three businesses to leave in a short span. "But none of them are unexpected."
She says lease rates tend to increase upon renewal based on increased operating costs and market rates, however have not fluctuated significantly for any mall businesses.
"I'm not aware of any tenant that's paid anything drastic at all," she says.
Desrosiers looks forward and isn't dwelling on mall closures.
"On the flip side it's also positive because it frees up some space," she says.
Right now, the mall is filling space with temporary tenants for the Christmas season: Lazy One Sleepwear just moved in next to the Bay, an Oakley's store is slated for November, along with the Log Barn, and more are expected on the way.
"We will be full for Christmas," Desrosiers says.
Johnstone isn't blaming new management or owners for a lag in sales but says the mall could benefit from some fresh marketing. She remembers when the mall held events like fashion shows and 'Canadian Idol' and feels Kelowna shopping is advertised more in the city than local shopping.
To contact a reporter for this story, email: email@example.com, call: (250) 319-7494 or tweet: @jess__wallace.