Kelowna's Orchard Park mall may be shrinking but don’t count it out any time soon | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kelowna's Orchard Park mall may be shrinking but don’t count it out any time soon

The pear entrance at the Orchard Park mall in Kelowna is pictured in this photo, Oct. 25, 2019 photo.
October 29, 2019 - 7:00 AM

When Sears went out of business, decisions needed to be made at Kelowna's Orchard Park Shopping Centre.

Rather than chopping up 93,000 square feet of space for smaller retailers, the mall ripped most of the old structure down and rebuilt what are essentially brand new buildings with a major new entrance.

“We’re not downsizing, we’re right-sizing,” Donna Markin, the mall’s general manager told

The mall is almost 50 years old, opening in 1971 out past what then was the edge of Kelowna. The Bay signed a 100-year lease as one of the anchor tenants while Sears was the other. The Bay is still there with 135,000 square feet.

Markin was not there when Orchard Park opened but explained that was a time when malls could not get bank financing without one or two major anchors who were sometimes also partners in the malls.

Back in 1971, Orchard Park was not the roughly 700,000 square feet it is today, having gone through a number of expansions/renovations. This is their ninth.

Donna Markin is general manager of Orchard Park Shopping Centre.
Donna Markin is general manager of Orchard Park Shopping Centre.

The one new tenant that is moving in is Mark’s. Markin is not revealing the names of any others but points to Mark’s as an example of the changing nature of retail.

It used to be Mark’s Work Wearhouse and only sold men’s workwear. Now it has expanded to casual and women's wear.

“Retailers expand and contract,” Markin said. “The good ones - and Mark’s as part of the Canadian Tire Group is probably one of the best retail companies in our entire country – they have adjusted their business model to match the demand of the patron. And that’s what good businesses do.”

So, instead of having one large “box” of a store, there are now half a dozen with spaces that are right for them.

That brings the mall up to 160 active businesses, most of them small shops under 15,000 square feet. There is about a nine per cent vacancy rate, which works well for the centre since there needs to be room to expand and renovate.

For example, Purdy’s and Roots had to relocate elsewhere in the mall while they underwent hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of renovations that took about three months each. Again, a sign that retailers are confident about their future in the shopping centre.

Markin has no fear of Amazon and other online businesses, noting Amazon itself built a brick and mortar store just last year.

“Lots of retailers can’t make financial sense of their online platforms,” she said. “Most sophisticated retailers become an omnichannel-based business. They identify what is the most profitable piece of their business and invest in it, which is why you see some retailers deciding to stay in bricks and motor while others decide: ‘You know what, we can make the same amount of money in delivery,’”

There are a few other things that Orchard Park has going for it to keep it viable.

It’s the biggest mall between Vancouver and Calgary, and it has a loyal customer base that Markin hasn’t seen in any other location.

She’s worked for almost every mall owner in the country for 30 years, the last seven at Orchard Park.

“I’ve never worked in a community that was so interested and so loyal to their shopping centre,” she said. “It’s a lot of responsibility to bear and you take that very seriously when you want to make sure that you’re doing the best you can for the community you serve."

She talked about being out in the mall during Thanksgiving weekend which is the first time students return home from university and reunite with their friends in the mall.

“There are products that are easy and convenient to order electronically but none of that takes the place of the touch and feel, the tactile human element or even taking my grandchildren and sharing their shopping experience with them,” Markin said. “That cannot be duplicated electronically – the whole social aspect of it. Our shopping centres have become our Main Streets.”

Will Orchard Park grow again and, if so, where?

There are “pad” retailers like banks and restaurants that do take space outside the mall. There is room for more of them but there are few who prefer that model.

There is also the land Orchard Park owns across Dilworth Drive where the Farmers' Market is held two days a week.

“We’d love to do something more permanent with the farmers' market,” Markin said. “We gave them their seed money to get started more than 20 years ago so we have very strong ties to the market because, first of all, it’s an outstanding market and it’s so reflective of the community we live in but our challenge is we’re a retailer that operates seven days a week and they’re primarily a farmers' network that tries to sell their goods when they’re available to sell.”

She’s thrilled that an application has been made to the City to put housing on the land where the old school board office sat, again, just across Dilworth Drive. That may have an eventual impact on the farmers' market but she stressed any changes to that piece land is some ways off.

“It complements the business and continues to support our own philosophy of giving back to the community,” she said, adding if there’s demand for a bigger mall, the owners will find some way to make it happen.

After all, part of the redevelopment of the Sears site is to add almost 400 new parking spaces. As more people switch to transit – and a new transit station is going to be developed at the mall – there will be less need for parking and more space for retail.

“When we build a space, we’re always planning for change,” Markin said.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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