Designer outlet succeeding despite pandemic

Six years on, McArthurGlen is continuing to grow.

The outlet mall—its full name is McArthurGlen Designer Outlet Vancouver Airport—opened in July 2015. A new wing opened in 2019, and there is still enough land for another expansion phase totalling 30 more retail units. General manager Robert Thurlow anticipates that expansion might begin construction in the next year and a half.

Thurlow remembers the initial construction process being a lot longer than anticipated, including some delays acquiring materials. But once McArthurGlen opened, it was “really quite smooth sailing from that point on.”

The location was initially selected because of its access to the Canada Line, with Templeton station located right at the end of the parking lot. The centre is a collaboration with the airport authority, with each partner having a 50 per cent share.

“Working with the project management team at (the airport) was really helpful, they were terrific to work with. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner,” says Thurlow.

With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing, and recreational travel still greatly reduced, the airport-adjacent centre is trying to make up for lost time.

This summer’s numbers are roughly equivalent to a normal year, and Thurlow says June and July 2021 represented a 26 per cent increase compared to the same months in 2020. He notes that while the international tourist element of the centre’s business is still missing, more locals are stopping by—and they’re spending more.

“With the borders closed and no international tourist piece, we’re actually making that up with more frequency from local visitors who live in the area,” he says.

And with capacity restrictions being eased, lineups are shortening. But Thurlow says it’s still best to be the first customer of the day, so you won’t have to wait.

“We’ve certainly noticed longer dwell time than we had prior,” he says. “Prior to the onslaught of COVID, the dwell time of the average customer was about 90 minutes, (and) that is now about two hours.”

Outdoor concourse space, which includes unique patio spaces, is another draw of McArthurGlen. Its restaurants have adjacent outdoor dining spaces, which was always built into the floor plan. During the pandemic, patio spaces expanded as outdoor dining became more prevalent—and at times was the only option.

“Outdoor spaces in summer months, even pre-COVID, always filled up faster than inside,” says Thurlow. “Sometimes people sit on a bench, buy a coffee, bring a book, and watch planes come in. It astounded me how many people came and did that. I remember one guy just sitting under a lamppost with a book saying ‘I find it so beautiful to come here and sit, and it’s peaceful’.”

Hannah Scott, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Richmond Sentinel

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