Chet Greason email@example.com
Festival Marketplace mall celebrated a quarter of a century in business on Saturday, March 21 with a massive cake and a small gathering.
“Twenty-five years in the retail world is a long time to stay in business,” reflected property manager MJ Thomson. “Especially in this day and age with big box stores and the Internet.”
She said running an indoor shopping mall has changed a great deal since 1989, when success was measured by traffic.
“Now we focus more on community events,” she noted. “It’s about creating a community space. People come here to connect.”
She cited such draws as the recent garbage can decoration contest, Optimism Place’s Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, and organizations like hockey teams and the Horticultural Society that hold events within the bright thoroughfares of the mall. Just a few days prior, a large crowd had gathered to cheer on the tiny rodents involved in Ruffin’s Pet Centre’s annual hamster races.
Reinventing itself as a community plaza rather than a simple retail hub has helped Festival Marketplace weather some tough times. The advent of Internet shopping has certainly made retail’s future uncertain. Likewise, the addition of Walmart and the now-defunct Target just down Ontario Street had some of the mall’s tenants concerned.
“But it’s actually been better,” explained Thomson about the big box stores moving in. “Instead of driving to London or Kitchener, (shoppers) come to us.”
The mall was built and is owned by Toronto-based development company Tanurb Inc., which also owns Springwater Marketplace in Barrie, as well as a number of holdings in the US.
Thomson has been with the company for eight and a half years. A handful of businesses have also been with the mall since its inception, including Goliger’s Travel, Hallmark, and A&W.
Present while the cake was being doled out was Fred Sapwell, who was among the first maintenance workers hired at the mall 25 years ago. Now 68, Sapwell has since retired.
“A lot’s different since back then,” he noted. “I remember when the garbage cans had ashtrays in them.”
He said he has fond memories of working at the mall and the many stores that have set up shop there.
“I was just a youngster then,” he laughed. “But I loved it here.”