What future for shopping centers after COVID-19?


Les matinées Index Design – October 14th // Round Table Discussion.

Summary of the conference: Vacants spaces and desertification of shopping centers: what should we do?

Guests: Philippe Demers – MassivART ; Stéphanie Labrecque – GH+A ; Alexi Lemay – LemayMichaud


What is the future for shopping centers: readjustment or new direction?
Place Ste-Foy – Crédit photo: Stéphane Groleau

Place Ste-Foy – crédit photo: Stéphane Groleau

Alexi Lemay, Senior Partner Architect at LemayMichaud, had the opportunity to participate in a conference last October on the future of Post-COVID commercial destinations.

To understand today’s issue and debate, it is important to know the origin of shopping centers. A little over 40 years ago, the notion of “Anchor tenant” was born alongside shopping centers. These big names in the retail industry were strategically established in shopping malls for several years to ensure traffic flow and to help the survival of the smallest retailers by creating business clusters.

While we are not out of the current pandemic, it is becoming increasingly clear that shopping malls and retail businesses in general as we know them will have to readjust to cope with the consequences of the crisis. Today’s shopping malls, although having been redesigned over the past few years to cope with the digital shift, will have to readjust yet again to respond to a new reality in order to survive.

As a direct consequence of COVID-19, many chains and stores are moving towards online commerce, some even choosing to close their stores completely to maximize their online presence. This has a direct impact on traffic but also on the primary objective of shopping malls. Therefore, it is necessary for shopping destinations to rethink their experiential offer, while also considering hygiene and prevention measures, whether they are temporary or permanent.

Has the crisis accelerated awareness of owners and shareholders, forcing a more rapid restructuring than expected? Probably.

We have seen a trend among our clients in recent years to search for solutions or to redefine the offer on site, for example with the appearance of power centers such as the Dix30 in Brossard. In addition to boutiques and stores, shopping centers must become an entertainment destination with a wide range of services: play centers, restaurants, common areas, etc.

This new tangent responds to consumer demands to diversify their shopping experience and to the needs of property owners to attract a broader customer base and maximize visitor time on site.

Let’s take the Galeries de la Capitale in Quebec City for instance, whose offer and experience were redesigned in 2019. In addition to classic retailers such as Sports Experts, we also find the Mega Parc featuring attractions including a skating rink, a fast-food common area, but also adjacent more upscale restaurants, a movie theatre, and a gourmet market. The objective of this kind of rehabilitation is to maximize consumer time on site, but also to develop an offer for all types of clientele.

” Now, the owners of these centers must once again find what the consumers need and will certainly have to offer safe premises that will meet the new health standards. ” Alexi Lemay

Galeries de la Capitale – Crédit photo: Stéphane Groleau

What are the impacts and the future of shopping centers?

When thinking about the restructuring of commercial destinations, we must find relevant solutions in the short and medium term, especially in the context of a pandemic, but also in the long term. The property owners had already started thinking about this issue, as we have witnessed a questioning in recent years about the adjustment of these sites and their integration towards a more efficient urban cohesion.

The accessibility of shopping malls will be a particularly important stake in the future, as new generations will increasingly use individual transportation less and less. What does this mean in actual terms for the shopping center or shopping destinations? First of all, the main challenge is the creation of exchange hubs and their integration in the surrounding urban fabric in order to create a cohesive relationship between the different spaces

Next, it also requires rethinking the large parking spaces in order to compensate for future desertification, finding them a new use to promote a diversity of offers: offices, residential spaces, etc.

In short, as explained by Alexi, “We will have to revisit the urban design within these large properties, perhaps even allow for the integration of housing to create an appeal and make it possible for businesses to survive. Create living environments with a certain synergy with consumers’ lifestyles so that these locations do not become deserted.”

Time Out Market - Crédit photo: Adrien Williams
Time Out Market Crédit photo: Adrien Williams

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