More shoppers strolling and stores opening at New Horizon Mall, business owners say

Bless Tata opened Bless Thee Fashion at New Horizon Mall three months ago. He says he sees more shoppers now than when he first visited the mall earlier this year.  (Dan McGarvey/CBC - image credit)

Bless Tata opened Bless Thee Fashion at New Horizon Mall three months ago. He says he sees more shoppers now than when he first visited the mall earlier this year. (Dan McGarvey/CBC – image credit)

Businesses in New Horizon Mall say things are looking up for the troubled shopping centre north of Calgary.

The $200-million Asian-inspired mall opened in 2018, making the headlines for its lack of stores and shoppers, with only nine of its 517 units open for business at the time.

It’s taken several years but businesses now say as more small, niche stores are opening up — attracted in large part by low rents and incentives — more shoppers are finally visiting the mall to take a look inside and explore.

“There’s a lot of positivity around here,” said Greg Cartwright, owner of My Little Greenhouse, a store packed with house plants that’s been open in the mall for the past year.

“There’s more foot traffic than there was coming in, throughout the week especially, compared to when we first opened. Now on a Monday I might do just as good as I would on a Saturday or Sunday.”

Businesses say a softened focus on COVID-19 this summer is bringing shoppers and families back into public places. A huge new 34,000-square-foot kids entertainment centre on the mall’s upper floor called the Sky Castle is also bringing in new clientele who stay to browse the stores and explore.

“There are regulars and a lot of word of mouth going around now too,” Cartwright said.

“We don’t just sit back and wait. Most of us are entrepreneurial, so we’re spreading our names and making people aware of our different brands, which helps.”

It’s not quite the retail revolution that was promised, but business owners say the increased traffic at the mall is a noticeable improvement from previous years.

‘Always room for improvement’

Nearly every retail unit in the mall is privately owned. They were sold in the same way as condos, with buyers either opening their own business or renting the units they purchased out to other people. The glass-walled units that form long corridors range from the tiniest of boxes to much bigger spaces.

Low rents are attracting small businesses who can rent a unit for as little as $350 per month with additional incentives thrown in like free rent, in some cases covering multiple months.

“There’s a lot of negotiating you can do with private owners,” said Cartwright. “It made it affordable and very low risk. You’re not worrying about how to cover the rent here.”

The mall attracts small businesses run by people from around the world who now call Calgary home.

Dan McGarvey/CBC

Dan McGarvey/CBC

Bless Tata opened his African clothing and fedora hat store, called Bless Thee Fashion, three months ago. He says he’s already seen a difference in foot traffic.

“I came here six months ago to first look and it was not like this. For the three months I’ve been here the mall is picking up, the mall traffic is coming in. We still have to do more but compared to six months ago it’s better,” said Tata.

“People are hopeful it’s getting better.”

Tata’s store is like many in the mall: unique.

Across the corridor Mariam Sherzad stands outside her store, Maro Boutique. She sells traditional Afghan clothes and jewelry, popular for weddings and gatherings. She’s run her business for two years.

“When I started it was so quiet and if I compare last year to this year it’s a lot, lot bigger and I feel it’s going to get better,” said Sherzad.

Dan McGarvey/CBC

Dan McGarvey/CBC

She’d like to see longer opening times and more advertising, but she’s optimistic about the future.

“They should do something different to bring people here. We still need people to come here,” she said.

“There’s always room for improvement.”

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