St. John’s NL Retail Rebounding Amid Optimism Following Pandemic Struggles: Interview

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The pandemic over the past year or so has caused a great disruption for the retail sector across the country, but for the Avalon Mall in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, it has been a year of new store openings.

Nikki Poole, Associate Vice President for commercial real estate brokerage CBRE Limited, said 2020 was a “slug” for retail in Newfoundland like it was for the rest of the country.

Nikki Poole

“There certainly were some delays in store openings and deals that weren’t in the works before really just went on the backburner. The positive note is that 2021 is shaping up to be a whole more optimistic. Last year, I think it was just more of a status quo, shorter renewals, no one really wanted to rock the boat and stores were just being creative in trying to keep the lights on truthfully, just like anywhere else in Canada,” said Poole.

“Our landscape now is we’ve all been stuck here so disposable income is being spent on retail and renovations and there’s still a lot of money being pumped into the retail market here.

“The Avalon Mall for instance they still opened up H&M, the Gap, Old Navy, Levi’s, Tommy Hilfiger. They’ve opened up all these stores during the pandemic which in any other market would never happen. But the Avalon Mall is just a unique property. As everyone knows across Canada, the sales are phenomenal there and they’re in the middle of a multi-million dollar renovation. So maybe that has helped bring in some interest and Five Guys is opening in the Avalon Mall. That will be our first to the province. That’s promising.”

Image: Avalon Mall

Poole said there is a lot of activity with smaller health and wellness based businesses.

“They seem to be eating up a lot of our smaller retail openings in the suburbs. And then we have some businesses, who have been online based and thrived during the pandemic, online shopping, and some of these businesses are now opening up storefronts which is very positive and exciting because they’re growing and eating into that warehouse distribution space and having these cute little storefronts that are pop-ups that are legit lease spaces,” she said.

Like many other retail experts across the country, Poole also agreed that the feared ‘retail apocalypse’ that would result with many closures due to the pandemic just did not materialize.

“The national closures were out of our control and a lot of times when the national stores closed down the Newfoundland stores were told they were exceeding sales expectations but we all know those decisions are made much broader than in Newfoundland,” said Poole.

“Yes it certainly was a time where the doors were shut in some of these spaces and there was concern that they wouldn’t reopen but I think from a fatality perspective we certainly have I would speculate nationally a smaller percentage of those who didn’t reopen.

“We’re a small market. So tenants know landlords. Landlords know their tenants. They shop at their stores. They don’t want to lock the doors on people knowing that there’s not 50 other businesses lining up to go in those spots. So relationships are really important and what we’re seeing now that we’re sort of out of this dark tunnel a bit is a bit of a relocation happening. I do think people are now calling other landlords and dancing with them to see about relocating their businesses, particularly if their leases are up for renewal right now. They’re shopping around.”

Article Author

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 National Business Journalist with Retail Insider in addition to working on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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