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West Edmonton Mall Marks 40 Years of Operations

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This week, West Edmonton Mall is marking 40 years of operations. The massive shopping centre opened in September of 1981 and has expanded to four phases over the years. The entertainment-heavy shopping centre began adding luxury brand stores several years ago, rounding out the assortment with a wide range of retail price-points. 

Shopping centre fan Matthew Dutczak of Best Edmonton Mall celebrated the milestone on Wednesday evening with a segment on Youtube which can be viewed below. 

Video: Best Edmonton Mall via Youtube

West Edmonton Mall is either the largest shopping centre in North America or the second largest — Wikipedia indicates that the Mall of America in suburban Minneapolis is larger, and both shopping centres are owned by the Ghermezian family of Triple Five Group. 

The entertainment-heavy shopping centres both see millions of visitors annually, with West Edmonton Mall having welcomed about 30 million visitors per year prior to the pandemic. 

The first phase of West Edmonton Mall that opened in 1981 housed about 220 retailers and was anchored by department stores Hudson’s Bay, Eaton’s and Sears. The second phase opened in 1983 and added a skating rink and an amusement park called Fantasyland that would be rebranded Galaxyland several years later after a lawsuit with Disney over the name. A Safeway grocery store in the second phase became a location for an upscale Bretton’s department store for several years. 

Phase three of the mall opened in 1985 with a substantial expansion including several attractions — the World Waterpark with an indoor wave pool, an indoor lake with a replica of the Santa Maria ship as well as three submarines and live dolphins, and a mini golf course. Hundreds of new retailers were also added including a Woodward’s department store (that was converted to Hudson’s Bay for a time after Woodward’s went bankrupt in 1992) and a European-styled street called Europa Boulevard was also unveiled. A hotel was also added to the mix and is called the Fantasyland Hotel — a name that Disney hasn’t touched unlike the former name of the amusement park. 

West Edmonton Mall
West Edmonton Mall – Image: Best Edmonton Mall

Phase four of West Edmonton Mall was completed in 1998 including the addition of an IMAX theatre — a phase made possible after Hudson’s Bay vacated the former Woodward’s space. Interestingly, Hudson’s Bay operated two stores at West Edmonton Mall between 1993 and 1998.

Luxury retail became part of the mix in 2013 when New York City-based jeweller Tiffany & Co. opened a store in the mall. That was followed in 2019 by Louis Vuitton which relocated from a now shuttered downtown Holt Renfrew store. Most recently, Saint Laurent and Gucci have opened storefronts in the same area as Tiffany and Vuitton, creating something of a luxury wing. 

Some of the retailers at West Edmonton Mall do exceptionally high sales, with some stores being among the top performers in their respective chains. The ‘resort feel’ of the centre creates a destination where many come to spend time and shop as well as participate in other activities. The mall also has a wide range of food and beverage options that draw in visitors as well as attractions such as a casino, the Rec Room, dinner theatre, shooting range, and even an 11,000 square foot cannabis ‘experience’ retail space by Aurora. A street dedicated to restaurants called Bourbon Street opened as part of the mall’s third phase and it was rebranded as BRBN ST. several years ago. 

West Edmonton Mall now spans about 5.3 million square feet and has more than 800 stores and services, ten major attractions, two hotels (including one across the street from the mall) and about 100 dining venues.

Between 1985 and 2004, West Edmonton Mall was the world’s largest shopping centre. Since 2004 several shopping centres in Asia and the Middle East have surpassed West Edmonton Mall in size. 

West Edmonton Mall is still home to the world’s tallest indoor roller coaster (the Mindbender), the world’s largest indoor lake (Deep Sea Adventure), the largest indoor waterpark in the Americas (World Waterpark) and its parking lot of 20,000 spaces, as well as over 10,000 overflow spaces, is the world’s largest. 

West Edmonton Mall continues to see changes into the fall of this year — over the weekend North America’s largest virtual reality experience, Virtual Land, opened below the La Maison Simons store (which opened in October of 2012). This fall, Mayfield Toyota will open a massive facility in the first phase of the mall including part of the former Sears space. On Tuesday of next week, Australian eyewear retailer Oscar Wylee will open its first Canadian store in the mall. And later this month, Baltimore-based athletic brand Under Armour will open its second full-priced concept store in Canada at West Edmonton Mall — one thing consistent about West Edmonton Mall is constant change. 

This article could go on and on as the history of West Edmonton Mall is extensive. For anyone interested in the history of the shopping centre and what’s happening, be sure to check out Matthew Dutczak’s Best Edmonton Mall Youtube channel and subscribe

Article Author

Craig Patterson
Located in Toronto, Craig is the Editor-in-Chief of Retail Insider and President/CEO of Retail Insider Media Ltd. He is also a retail analyst and consultant, Director of Applied Research at the University of Alberta School of Retailing in Edmonton, and consultant to the Retail Council of Canada. He has studied the Canadian retail landscape for over 25 years and he holds Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Laws Degrees.

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