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Cautious optimism among New Horizon retailers despite mall being virtually empty

Amidst seemingly endless aisles of empty store fronts at the New Horizon Mall, Ruhul Amin’s new store — Just Juniors — looks strangely out of place.

The store specializes in children’s clothing and sneakers. It’s brightly lit and the merchandise is neatly displayed on the walls and tables.

Amin opened Just Juniors three weeks ago. He’s one of about seven stores that are now up in running at the mall, located next to CrossIron Mills, just outside Calgary’s city limits.

The problem is, the mall has about 500 spaces just like Amin’s, and nearly every one is void of any business.

Nevertheless, the mall does seem to be attracting some shoppers, who come if for no other reason that to look at the endless rows of tiny empty store fronts.

“I got some visitors,” said Amin. “They’re here just to look around – they also came to my store. They bought some stuff for their kids. It’s OK.”

Most of the spaces to have for lease signs propped up inside, with realtor names and phones numbers. Many of the signs say for sale or lease. That’s because each stall is owned by an investor or a store operator – not the mall management. It’s meant to be like a condominium, but for retail property.

All of these storefronts are empty, and there are other hallways besides this. (Brodie Thomas/ LiveWire)

Amin said the mall management is doing things to help attract people to the mall, and they’ve also waived his condo fees until December.

“I don’t know how it will work after December,” he said.

The mall is modeled after the Pacific Mall in Markham, Ont., and it promises to be different than most shopping centres, both for the size of the tiny store spaces, and for the owner-operator model.

Many retailers only need 100 or 200 square feet of retail space, and the mall could give them a chance to get into a brick-and-mortar commercial space that they’d never find in a traditional mall.

That’s what retailer Ryan Lowon found. He started with online retail stores, but now he’s opened Trend Up.

“I source that experience and I bring those type of products here – ones that are trending online,” he said.

His store now has talking toy hamsters, anti-theft bags, beauty products, fidget cubes, and even digital ear cameras.

He said rent is great right now because there’s many units but low demand.

“I’m pretty satisfied,” said Lowon. “My expectation was a lot less in the building. The mall has exceeded my expectations of foot traffic and people buying. Weekends are really busy.”

Back at Just Juniors, Ruhul Amin wonders if the mall management could speed things along by helping more lease holders get the renovations done on their store spaces.

“The mall management wants some of the work to be done by specific contractors – They’re very busy right now,” he said.

For lease signs can be found in the majority of the store stalls. (Brodie Thomas / LiveWire)

But Wasim Elafech – a realtor and store owner at New Horizon – said the mall is open to having other contractors come in.

“Ledcor is the main contractor,” he said.

“People can bring in their own contractor but they obviously have to be licensed, bonded, insured, all that stuff. There’s no, ‘My friend Jim wants to come do the electrical.’ That’s not gonna happen. This is a beautiful mall – they want to be sure it keeps the integrity.”

Elafech is acting as a leasing agent for many of the store owners who bought the space as an investment. He said there’s lots of interest, but people are biding their time. He thinks there will be a tipping point as more and more stores open.

“I think once we’ve opened 50 to 60 units, the flood gates are going to open then,” he said.

“We still have a lot of people sitting on the fence. The longer people sit on the fence, the longer it’ll take to get going.”