After overcoming some pitfalls throughout their history, malls today face their biggest challenge: competition from e-commerce.
Various surveys confirm the trend exacerbated by the pandemic.
In 2020, 78% of Quebecers made at least one purchase online, and 40.6% said they placed an order online “every week or at least several times a month.”
However, the proportion of online shoppers in Quebec remains the lowest of all Canadian provinces. Alberta and British Columbia are the champions with 86.2 and 85.5 per cent of online shoppers, respectively, according to Statistics Canada.
In the Charlevoix centre, in La Malbaie, the situation is similar to many other buying centers in Quebec. Big brands with overseas reach like Metro and Canada Tire are fully operational.
However, within the mall, small independent shops, restaurants and local services are more rare than ever. Just like customers.
After entertainment and accommodation
Early in their history, malls diversified their offerings in order to “attract more people for longer,” in particular by adding entertainment, explains Alex Tremblay-Lamarche, director of the Quebec Urban Heritage Association.
The Méga Parc des Galeries de la Capitale, which opened in 1988, is a prime example of this effort.
From now on, business developers are relying on a growing need to diversify their offer: housing.
The Trudel Corporation group, owner of the Fleur de Lys shopping center and Galeries Charlesbourg, is working to develop rental units in these two locations.
Galeries de la Canardière has already embraced this path with the first phase of development of its NUVO Quartier project starting in 2021. An imposing tower with 126 high-end rental units has been built in the middle of the parking lot.
Claudine Demme, a professor at the University of Montreal's School of Architecture, acknowledges that the development of the Galeries de la Canardière is progress, but at the same time adds that “there is still a long way to go.”
Not just for cars
“Housing as it looks now, I have the impression that it is still in its infancy. “We need to break out of the 20th century and respond to the needs of the 21st century: aging populations, young families, migration,” Professor Deem continues.
In their current design, with or without housing, malls cater to one customer: motorists.
“The first quality of a shopping center is not to be close, but to have a lot of parking. So we put parking in front of the building: we want to attract motorists and show that it is easy,” says Mr. Tremblay-Lamarche.
Ms. Deem adds that the developments do not leave much space for pedestrians and other means of transportation.
“It is a mode of transportation that has been established in a dominant way, which has almost no consideration for others. Today, we are trying to reverse this trend.”
In order to “create a diverse living environment” that meets current needs and values, developers must provide more space for pedestrians, cyclists and seniors, according to two urban planning specialists.
Large paved areas allocated to cars affect not only other modes of transportation, but also the quality of life of citizens, according to Ms. Diem.
“This creates very large heat islands, especially in urban areas, which only increases the feeling of heat we are experiencing with climate change,” she says.
Projects similar to those at the Galeries de la Canardière will make use of the development of green roofs and wooded areas in order to create a “truly comfortable living environment.”
Moreover, some shopping centers were built “directly on the river banks,” such as the 1974-built Charlevoix Center in La Malbaie, assert Serge Gauthier and Christian Harvey of the Charlevoix Historical Society.
“At the College of Planning, we look at these places and consider them mistakes that should not be repeated. What an insult to the river! “It defies belief,” exclaimed Mrs. Diem.
Regardless of the scenario, Ms. Deem stresses that it is necessary to remove metals from asphalt areas while preserving the buildings, because the demolition and construction of new buildings has a significant environmental impact.
“The shopping center offers real potential because it has a large plot of land and is located in a strategic location. It is a box: architecture without heritage constraints. It leaves a lot of room for creativity,” she says.
In order to create a diverse living environment, commercial spaces must interrupt the pattern of automobile transportation that, since its emergence, “divides living spaces,” as Alex Tremblay-Lamarche explains.
“The suburbs are just a place where we sleep; We work in another neighborhood, and consume in another neighborhood. Today, we are slowly moving towards areas where we can live, work, play and do all in the same place.
— Alex Tremblay-Lamarche, Director of the Urban Heritage Society of Quebec
According to him, the arrival of government offices, social services and the development of housing for the elderly (RPA) are among the best options to “create life” around shopping malls. He points out that Envol Chartwell's headquarters in Cap Rouge already operates on a similar model, with commercial space on the ground floor.
“Old people love shopping centres: they're great, they're on one level, there are places to rest, have a coffee, there are people. The shopping centre, we can adapt it, why shouldn't we?” says Ms Deem.
“We know that mixing different generations and age groups in residential areas is very beneficial morally and socially. She adds: “But we do not dare to embrace diversity and mixing. We are always in a state of isolation.”
Or destroy everything…
Other commercial places, which were well frequented, such as Carrefour Saint-Jean on Rue Taniata in Lévis, will instead make way for new commercial buildings.
“We are waiting for Canada Post's lease to expire, and then we will be able to demolish the building,” confirms co-owner Cassandra Bechet, who adds that the investments needed for the renovation were very significant.
Ms Pichet says Carrefour Saint Jean will be replaced by two supermarkets from “well-known national brands”.
For reading on Sunday: An electrical service station in the parking lot of a shopping center in the Quebec area
Center Charlevoix and Galeries de la Canardière did not respond to requests for an interview.
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