Friday, April 4, 2008

Charleswood Shopping Centre Plaza

The Charleswood Shopping Centre Plaza is a community shopping centre on Grant Avenue. At one time, it was an enclosed mall and went by the name Forest Park Mall. It was built around 1978 by my recollection. In 2004, the owners of the mall announced that they were going to do a convert the mall to a big box strip mall. This was precipitated by fact that one of the anchors of the mall left to occupy Wal-Mart's old location at the Grant Park Shopping Mall. Zellers had not been the original department store tenant. That distinction went to Kmart which died a slow death in Canada and was bought over by Zellers in 1998.

The departure of Zellers caused a re-think of what the mall should look like to ensure success in the future. The problem with enclosed community shopping centers as time went on was that many of the smaller businesses had difficulty staying economically viable. The initial attractiveness of an small enclosed mall supported by anchor stores was starting to wain. Zellers wasn't exactly the draw it used to be (if it ever was) and the mall, like so many in the suburbs, was starting to look dowdy and unappealing.

For anyone driving past the Charleswood mall, it was easy to see that the place had no street presence. Aside from Safeway, McDonald's and the Zellers, no one was sure what the mall offered unless they parked and went inside. With the departure of it major anchor, it seemed the wisest choice was to turn the mall inside out.

It has been a long process with renovations continuing well into the fall of 2007 and with new tenants taking a very long time to occupy the new space. In the spring of 2008, there are only three smaller units still left to lease out. The latest tenants to move in are major additions at least in terms of unique and attractive businesses to draw shoppers in the Charleswood area. One first is Sushi Park, a family owned sushi restaurant tucked in close to the Safeway. It is an attractive place with good food and an excellent addition to the area. The other new business to move in this spring is Blockbuster.

For a number of years now, Charleswood has been underserved by the presence of a video store. Between Assiniboine Park and beyond the Charleswood Parkway and from the Assiniboine River to Wilkes, there hasn't been a video store of any sort for some time. While some people say that video stores are becoming less relevant with the Internet, Video on Demand, cable and satellite movie channels, there are still many people who like to rent videos and games. This can be witnessed by observing the Rogers Video store at the Kenaston Village Mall. It is filled with people; some no doubt from video store-starved Charleswood.

Safeway continues to be the main anchor on the west side of the mall along with McDonald's which sits out on the corner of the lot. On the east side of the mall, the new anchor is Shoppers Drug Mart. Many of the small pharmacies have fallen due to competition from the grocery chains. Shoppers has emerged as a formidable challenger to that trend.

The east corner of the mall opposite Royal School is reserved as park and ride lot for Winnipeg Transit. Beside that is a Tim Horton's to cater to the commuters travelling down Grant Avenue.

A Liquor Mart and a Dollarama round out some of the larger retailers to rent space in the mall. One unique entry to the mall is City Looks Spa and Salon. The salon business has really taken off and several regional shopping centers have benefited from this type of business moving in.

The 2007 revamp of Safeway has given the store a much better deli selection as well as a Starbucks. The outside of Safeway still looks boring but the inside is clean and generally an improvement.

A Quiznos, a Pet Valu a Bank of Montreal branch and a local insurance office round out the services at the mall.

So as the mall nears full occupancy, what is the verdict?

I'd have to say as far as community malls go, it has found the right formula and the right mix of stores to appeal to its residential core and to the commuters along Grant. The mall's street appeal has improved and the selection of stores has improved. All in all, it is a welcome re-development in the Charleswood neighborhood.

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