Premium outlet malls have long lured bargain-hunting shoppers across the border, particularly during periods when the dollar has been around par, which has probably contributed to recent plans by two Canadian developers to start building their own.
The race to be the first in the country has started in Halton Hills, a fast-growing community west of Toronto, where companies RioCan and Calloway have announced plans for complexes highlighted by discount stores dedicated to designer brands.
Names dropped in a report from The Globe and Mail included Saks, Nieman Marcus and Barneys, all represented by Greensboro, N.C.-based Tanger Outlet Centers, which has signed a deal with RioCan. Calloway is now in talks with a major U.S. factory outlet player.
The anticipation of similar outlet malls across the country might tantalize cost-conscious shoppers, while keeping their dollars north of the border, but the complexes are also likely to further diminish the status of mid-sized malls across the country.
Most of the largest Canadian shopping centres announced renovations or expansions on the rebound of the economic downturn, including the West Edmonton Mall, Toronto Eaton Centre, Pacific Centre in Vancouver and Chinook Centre in Calgary.
Yorkdale, the world's largest shopping mall when it opened in suburban Toronto in February 1964, has announced plans to add 40 stores to its current 260 by the end of 2012.
But while things appear to be booming in these larger malls, enthusiasm is rarely expressed for indoor ones with around 100 tenants or less, whose anchor stores have traditionally included lower middle-class stalwarts like Zellers and Sears.
Some shopping centres developed to serve planned communities in the 1960s have been reincarnated as the focal point of urban villages, like Toronto's Shops on Don Mills and Brentwood Village in Calgary, although these modernizations have also met with opposition from older area residents who preferred the seasoned calm.
Nonetheless, a more prominent casualty of factory outlet malls might turn out to be power centres, whose strips of large-format stores began proliferating across the country in the late-1980s.
The anticipation that Canadians will eagerly drive a few extra miles to scavenge for an unexpected designer discovery will likely come at the expense of the most predictable of retail environments.