Edmonton mall cashes in on alternative tenants to fight Canada-wide slump

The Bonnie Doon Shopping Centre is using unconventional tenants like the RC Racers Edmonton club and attractions like a vegetable garden to draw in customers.  (Submitted by Leah Day - image credit)
The Bonnie Doon Shopping Centre is using unconventional tenants like the RC Racers Edmonton club and attractions like a vegetable garden to draw in customers. (Submitted by Leah Day - image credit)

The mini stock cars of Radio Control Racers Edmonton are swerving down the track at their new storefront in the Bonnie Doon Shopping Centre.

The club is one of the unconventional tenants setting up shop in the shopping centre, which is counting on alternative attractions to fight slumping mall foot traffic numbers.

Radio Control Racers Edmonton took over a storefront in the building last month. President Randy Van said the first few weeks have been a massive success for both the club and the mall.

"It's been great for the community," he said. "Everybody that lives close to the mall is coming just to watch races."

Among the mall's other tenants are the Edmonton Train Collectors Association, a model train club, Africart, a locally-owned African clothing and art store, and Priya Fashions, a clothing store specializing in Indian and Islamic bridal fashion.

Submitted by Randy Van
Submitted by Randy Van

The shopping centre's general manager Tammy Abbott said the pandemic forced the mall, which opened in 1968, to change the way it does business.

"We've had to look out of the box and bring new concepts to the plate," she said. "Consumer patterns have changed, so we have to change."

According to Statistics Canada, the number of Canadians shopping online rose from 73% in 2018 to 82% in 2020.

Monthly e-commerce sales in Canada are 233% higher than in-person sales, according to the most recent data.

Changing spending patterns are causing flagship stores to fail at malls across Edmonton.

The Co-op grocery store in the Mill Woods Town Centre closed this January. In the same month, The Toys "R" Us store in the West Edmonton Mall announced it would close, as did the Sport Chek in the City Centre Mall location.

As well as boutique stores and local clubs, Bonnie Doon is boosting business through experience attractions.

This month, the centre hosted a Night of Artists celebration, where shoppers admired art displays throughout the building, listened to live music, and talked to local artists about their work.

The Night of Artists organization also runs a full-time art gallery in the space.

Phil Alain, the group's founder, believes the mall's unique approach is restoring connections between neighbours, which are whittling away.

"It slows people down, and I think we need more [opportunities] where people stop and smell the roses and stop and look at the art," he said.

The Bonnie Doon Shopping Centre also operates an outdoor ice rink to attract families during winter months and a community vegetable garden in a storefront.

"[The garden] started during COVID as a team building exercise for our office staff, and we quickly realized that it takes many hands to grow vegetables," said Abbott.

"Volunteers come in, and they take care of the plants, they grow them, they harvest them and plant more."

The mall donates all fresh produce to Edmonton's The Mustard Seed and Youth Empowerment and Support Services.

Submitted by Leah Day
Submitted by Leah Day

Roxx, a store that sells semi-precious stones, fossils, and tiny carved penguins, fairies and dragons, claims the new strategies are boosting business.

"Us personally have had a major influx of more traffic," said Roxx part-owner Jacqueline Bursey.

"I definitely think bigger box chain stores may not be having as much success as us."

Mall organizers expect the Valley Line LRT, featuring a stop at the shopping centre, will help retail businesses to build on recent momentum.

The Bonnie Doon Shopping Centre has invested 2 million in a transit plaza linking the mall and the LRT station.

The $1.8-billion Valley Line is two years behind schedule. The city has not yet announced an opening date for the line.