Entertainment in Malls: Oxford Properties Bringing ‘Friends’ and ‘Barbie’ Experiences to GTA Centres [Interviews]

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Friends fanatics are expected to boost retail traffic to pre-pandemic levels at Toronto’s top luxury destination once the immersive exhibit opens in mid-July.

“It is definitely an experience that we hope would draw people back into the shopping centre,” said Yorkdale’s director Will Correia, adding foot traffic volume is increasing every week and “getting closer to those 2019 numbers” of 18 million annual shoppers.

William Correia

That’s good news for “our retailers, our food and beverage tenants, et cetera,” he said.

The shopping centre is located at Highway 401 and Allen Road, spanning two million square feet. It’s managed by Oxford Properties Group, housing roughly 270 stores.

The 20,000-square-foot space being used for the Friends tour was home to the Marvel Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. immersive exhibit last year, “so that space was a perfect location to continue with an experience there,” said Correia.

Visitors traveled from the Greater Toronto Area, London, Kingston, Ottawa and even out of province, he said.

Getting people back into Yorkdale Shopping Centre physically, then hoping they’ll stay to spend and eat likely won’t be hard for those simultaneously channeling their inner Rachel and Fat Monica.

The FRIENDS Experience at Yorkdale Shopping Centre (Image: Craig Patterson)

Fans of the syndicated NBC sitcom can visit starting July 14 and find the immersive experience across from the LEGO store. General admission is $44.50 plus tax.

Yorkdale is home to the Friends tour’s first Canadian location.

Linda Farha
Linda Farha

That’s likely “because of its stature,” since the mall appeals to urban and suburban shoppers, said pop-up go founder and chief connector Linda Farha.

“It just certainly is an attraction to all.”

She’s not involved with the Friends exhibit but helps clients create pop-ups for brand activations. 

The shutdowns in Canada due to COVID-19 have led to “incredible growth of all these immersive experiences,” Farha said, noting the shift from transactional exchanges.

Image: The FRIENDS Experience

Friends fans can saunter through 12 rooms – and even Chandler and Joey’s apartment – plus coffee shop Central Perk and the fountain from the show’s opening credits.

“You’ll even get to poke Ugly Naked Guy,” reads the online description

In terms of guest satisfaction, “I think it’s gonna increase it. I think it can only help,” Correia said. “It just adds another layer of the experience of coming to Yorkdale … I think it’s going to draw people in, just providing a complementary experience that they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.”

Another major immersive event is taking place nearby at a different Oxford shopping centre: Square One in Mississauga, where the World of Barbie opens July 15.

Image: The World of Barbie

That’s an ideal location for families, Farha said.

Back in Toronto, the Friends exhibit is scheduled at Yorkdale until January 2, 2023.

“Sometimes these things carry on longer than we initially anticipate,” Correia said. 

The Avengers exhibit extended its stay last fall.

For those wanting to leave with something tangible, Friends merchandise will be available at a gift shop.

“We’re not aware of the partnerships but I wouldn’t be surprised if various retailers take advantage and come up with cross-promotions or other things that would work for both the Friends Experience and the retailer themselves,” he said.

There’s more on deck at Yorkdale this summer.

Another pop-up experience is ArtworxTO’s Carnival Portal, running until September 4.

It’s a partnership with the City of Toronto, featuring stories of Caribbean Carnival.

“We’re just looking for alternative things that we can do that’s going to bring the community together,” Correia said.

Then there’s fashion.

Future Cartier at Yorkdale Shopping Centre (Image: Craig Patterson)

A number of stores are expanding, including Bulgari, Browns, Burberry, Cartier, David Yurman, OVO and Tory Burch.

There’s an “abundance of leasing activity” from tenants “that are going to renovate their stores and are looking for temporary space, to new retailers looking for space in the shopping centre,” Correia said. 

“So we’re quite fortunate and happy that there’s a lot of action happening.”

Yorkdale Shopping Centre (Image: Craig Patterson)

WHAT’S NEW AT YORKDALE

Fashion:

  • Emporio Armani*
  • Ganni*
  • Fendi (standalone store)
  • Acne Studio
  • Offline
  • Mango
  • Allbirds 
  • Mejuri

Food:

TWG at Yorkdale Shopping Centre (Image: Craig Patterson)
  • Café Landwer 
  • TWG Tea*
  • Laderach*

Electric vehicles:

  • Lucid Motors*
  • VinFast

Gifts:

  • Diptyque

*Now open

Article Author

Kelly Roche
Kelly Rochehttp://rochekelly.com
Kelly Roche is a freelance multimedia journalist and educator who finds and tells great stories. Her daily news background includes reporting and videography at CTV News and Sun Media. She’s been producing impactful content for nearly 20 years; recent publishers include the Toronto Star and CBC. Visit rochekelly.com to collaborate with her.

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