After overcoming some pitfalls in their history, shopping centers today face their biggest challenge yet: competition from e-commerce.
Various surveys confirm the trend that the pandemic has exacerbated.
In 2020, 78% of Quebecers made at least one online purchase and 40.6% said they ordered online “every week or at least a few times a month.”
However, the proportion of online shoppers in Quebec is the lowest of all Canadian provinces. According to Statistics Canada, Alberta and British Columbia are the champions with 86.2 and 85.5% of online shoppers, respectively.
At the Charlevoix Center in La Malbaie, the situation is similar to many other shopping centers in Quebec. Big brands with external access like Metro and Canadian Tire are operating at full capacity.
However, inside the mall, small independent shops, restaurants and local services are rarer than ever. Just like customers.
After entertainment, accommodation
Early in their history, shopping centers diversified their offerings to “attract more people for longer,” especially by adding entertainment, explained Alex Tremblay-Lamarche, director of the Société du Patrimoineerbane de Québec.
The Mega Parc des Galeries de la Capitale, opened in 1988, is an excellent example of this effort.
From now on, business space developers count on the most felt need to diversify their offer: housing.
The Trudel Corporation group, owner of the Fleur de Lys shopping center and Galeries Charlesbourg, is working with the aim of developing rental units at these two locations.
Galeries de la Canardière has already followed this path with the development of the first phase of their NUVO Quartier project, which will open in 2021. A magnificent tower of 126 high-end rental units has been built in the center of the parking lot.
Claudine Diem, a professor at the University of Montreal's School of Architecture, acknowledges that Galeries de la Canardiere's evolution is in progress, but adds that “there is still a long way to go.”
Not just for cars
“Housing as it is now, I feel it is still in its infancy. “We need to get out of the 20th century and respond to the needs of the 21st century: aging populations, young families, migration,” continues Professor Diome.
In their current design, with or without housing, shopping centers serve a single clientele: motorists.
“The first quality of a shopping center is not to be close, but to have plenty of parking. So we put parking in front of the building: we want to attract motorists and show them that it's easy,” said Mr. Tremblay-Lamarche stated.
A development that leaves less space for pedestrians and other means of transport, Ms. Adds Diom.
“It is a mode of transportation that is established in a dominant way, which hardly considers others. But today, we are trying to reverse this trend,” she explains.
To “create a diverse living environment” in line with current needs and values, developers should make more space for pedestrians, cyclists and the elderly, according to two urban planning experts.
A Plan “Favorite”
Ms. According to Diom, large asphalt spaces meant for cars not only affect other modes of transportation but also affect the quality of life of citizens.
“This creates very large heat islands, especially in urban areas, which only increases the heat we will experience with climate change,” she said.
Projects such as the Galeries de la Canardier benefit from the development of green roofs and wooded areas to create a “truly comfortable living environment”.
Moreover, some shopping centers such as Le Center Charlevoix, built in 1974 in La Malbaie, were built “on the banks of the river”, confirm Serge Gauthier and Christian Harvey of the Charlevoix Historical Society.
“At the Faculty of Planning, we look at these places and treat them as mistakes that should not be repeated. What a shame to the river! It defies belief,” said Ms. Diome exclaimed.
Regardless of the scenario, since the demolition and construction of new buildings has a major environmental impact, Ms. Diome opined.
“The shopping center offers a real opportunity, because it has a large space, it is in a strategic location. It is a box: an architecture without heritage restrictions. It leaves a lot of room for creativity,” she said.
To create a diverse living environment, commercial spaces must break with the automobile mode of transportation, which, since its appearance, has “divided living spaces,” explains Alex Tremblay-Lamarche.
“The suburbs are only where we sleep; We work in another neighborhood, we eat in another neighborhood. But today we are slowly moving towards places where we can live, work, play and do everything in one 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 senior citizens' residences (RPA) are among the best options to “create life” around shopping centres. He pointed out that the Envol Chartwell residence in Cap-Rouge already operates on a similar model with commercial spaces on the ground floor.
“Older people like shopping centers: it's nice, it's on one level, there are places to relax, to drink coffee, there are people. A shopping center, we can adapt it, why don't we do it?”, Ms. Diom said.
“We know that mixing generations and different age groups in residential areas is morally and socially very beneficial. However, we don't dare to embrace and mix diversity, we are always in a situation of silos,” she adds.
Or tear it all down…
Other commercial spaces, such as the Carrefour Saint-Jean on Avenue Taniata in Lévis, which were once very frequented, will instead give way to brand new commercial buildings.
“We're waiting for the Canada Post lease to expire, then we'll be able to demolish the building,” co-owner Cassandra Pichet confirmed, adding that the investments required for renovations are significant.
Carrefour Saint-Jean will be replaced by two big-box stores from “well-known national banners,” Ms. Pichette said.
Sunday Reading: An electric service station in a shopping center parking lot in the Quebec area
Charlevoix Center and Galeries de la Canardière did not respond to our interview requests.