Marlborough Mall Announces Massage School to Occupy 137,000 Square Foot Sears Box

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Alberta’s largest massage therapy school, MaKami College, is taking over 137,000 square feet in Calgary’s Marlborough Mall in space left vacant when department store Sears shut down its locations across Canada a few years ago.

The college plans to open its doors in May 2020.

Darren Anderson, regional director in Calgary for Cushman & Wakefield Asset Services ULC which operates Marlborough Mall, said the new and unique use for the empty Sears space is an exciting initiative.

“Malls as a whole are evolving and have continued to evolve over the years. It’s not unusual and it’s certainly becoming much more common now where you’ll find malls that are not just strictly retail oriented but include other uses and become more of a sort of mixed-use properties,” said Anderson.


“They can draw people not to just come and shop but also to draw people for other reasons which obviously has a great benefit and spinoff benefit for the retailers that would be the primary use of the property. So from our perspective we’re quite excited to have a college coming in as it brings a very steady and large number of people to the property on a daily basis and obviously those students and staff will be able to take advantage of the various retail offerings and service businesses that we have at the property.

“Retail businesses can come and go. And to have an educational use at a property they tend to be a lot more stable. You don’t hear about colleges going bankrupt very often. So from that perspective trying to draw traffic to a property like this it’s actually a really good fit and especially for an older property like ours.”

The mall, which is about 563,000 square feet in northeast Calgary, is owned by the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan. A professional tower is also attached to the mall at another 51,000 square feet. The mall was built in 1974 and has about 160 stores and services.


The college will occupy the space in the mall’s north wing, offering the highest level of training in massage therapy, creating a hub for health and wellness in Calgary’s northeast community.

Founder and CEO of MaKami College, Marija Pavkovic-Tovissi, who was named one of Avenue Magazine’s Top 40 Under 40 in 2016 for her dedication and success in helping people become employable Canadians, started MaKami after witnessing her own parents struggle to find work in Canada. MaKami College currently educates approximately 1,200-plus students a year – many of whom are immigrants or working mothers – to help them achieve a diploma that is accepted in Canada and provides immediate employment opportunities.   

The new campus at Marlborough Mall will be completed in three phases by September 2020, including an onsite daycare for students with children and free ESL support through the ESL Conversation Club available to both students and community members. The college also offers on-location student support services such as housing, finance and social programs.  

“It’s very exciting for us. What makes us come to work every day is the drive to help people and our students,” said MaKami Marketing Director, Vladimir Pavkovic. “Now we can finally meet the numbers and demand that we have in Calgary but also expand into new programs to bring quality education that creates generational change.”

MaKami currently offers a two-year, 3,000-hour Advanced Clinical Massage Therapy Diploma Program and Health Care Aide certifications, but the new campus will eventually include Master Instructor and Culinary Assistant courses. The college also hopes to launch seven new programs pending government approval.

Marlborough Mall will be anchored by Walmart and MaKami College which will drive traffic to the shopping centre.

Anderson said the trend today is for different uses in empty big box spaces.


“It’s a little bit by necessity in the sense that here in Calgary as an example there’s an awful lot of what we would call traditional department store anchors that have gone bankrupt essentially over the last 10 years in Canada,” he said. “Originally most malls were built through the 60s, the 70s, the 80s and they were built with the traditional scenario where you would have generally two or three large department stores – depending on the size of the mall – at either end of the mall and then you fill up the balance of the space with smaller retailers and that was the general concept for shopping centres.

“The reality is that a number of the department store chains have gone under over the last 10 years. You’ve lost the K-Marts and the Zellers and the Targets. Now you’ve lost all of the Sears stores. So there’s an awful lot of department store anchor space that shopping centres throughout Canada have to fill. And there’s not a steady lineup of new department stores entering the market to fill that space.

“So landlords and owners of shopping centres have by necessity been required to get a little bit more creative in how to fill that space and still drive traffic to your property. It’s becoming much more common for shopping centres to include educational institutions often even government institutions of various types and entertainment.”

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Mario was named as a RETHINK Retail Top Retail Expert in 2024.

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