BRAUN: Malls to re-open, but some of their stores will not

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As of Wednesday, you can get a haircut, sit outside and eat lunch with five friends — and then go shopping at the mall.

When Toronto enters Step 2 of opening on June 30, mall shopping will become a reality again. Those keen to wander the halls of Yorkdale or Sherway Gardens have waited 12 weeks for this news.

The only stores currently open in malls are those with an exterior door. In Step 2, essential businesses such as grocery stores will go from 25% to 50% of capacity, while non-essential businesses will go from 15% to 25%.

Some stores opening in malls on Wednesday haven’t welcomed customers for almost three months.

Of course, when the malls do open, masking, distancing, and hand sanitation will still be enforced.

You won’t be able to hang around in the common areas, and the food court will be doing takeout only.

And you won’t be sitting inside the movie theatre at Yorkdale, Eglinton Town Centre, Fairview or any other shopping mall — or anywhere else in Ontario — until Step 3, currently set for July 23.

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Since capacity limits still apply, several malls will let you check online to see how crowded things are getting in real-time. Before leaving home, you’ll know if you’re in for a wait or not.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be any surprises.

During the pandemic, a large number of stores have vanished.

At the mall, expect to see fewer Starbucks, Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic outlets, as all three chains have closed some locations in Canada.

Don’t be surprised to find Godiva chocolate stores missing, as well as Disney Stores, J Crew, Zara Home, David’s Tea, and several other chains that no longer have stores in malls — or anywhere else in Canada.

During the pandemic, Reitmans, Victoria’s Secret, Le Chateau, and some Aldo shoe stores also vanished.

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And those are just the chains. Many individual shops and boutiques have disappeared over 16 months of COVID-19.

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At the mall, “there will be empty storefronts. Some chains are shutting down entirely and some have closed many stores,” said Craig Patterson, editor-in-chief of Retail Insider.

He blamed many of these closures on the Ontario government and the pandemic bungling that left Toronto with the lengthiest lockdown of any place in North America.

“Ontario has obliterated small businesses. The provincial slogan is ‘Open For Business,’ but only if you’re Amazon, Costco or Walmart. Those are not local!”

The catastrophic loss of revenue, said Patterson, “will impact thousands of business owners for the rest of their lives.

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“Look at food service, hair and nails, gyms — how can they ever recover?”

Patterson’s concern now is that the upcoming end of government supports will push even more businesses into closing.

“Businesses that lost revenue got help with leases and with employees, so you won’t see the vacancies next week, but in the weeks and months to come,” he said.

Some of the involved businesses were close to the end before COVID struck, he added. “So once government supports are gone, they’ll drop like flies. When the dust settles, COVID just accelerated everything for those who were already struggling.”

Some retailers could not adapt to the tech revolution and the move to online shopping.

A recent poll found four in 10 Canadians are in no rush to go back to in-store shopping — if ever. Another third will bide their time for a few months before going back into stores. That’s the e-commerce/home delivery effect.

Patterson said bricks and mortar stores are here to stay, but there will be fewer of them.

The good news is some businesses are flourishing regardless of the pandemic.

  1. File photo of bar patrons enjoying some beers with bartender Tonya MacWilliams at the Fill Station Sports Bar in Toronto on Aug. 1, 2020.

    Wondering what you’ll be able to do under Step 2 of Ontario’s reopening plan?

  2. Inside CF Toronto Eaton Centre in downtown Toronto on Thursdayy.

    Step Two gets a big welcome from shut down industries

  3. Ontario Legislative Building at Queen's Park, Toronto, Canada

    Ontario to take first step Friday to reopening

“There’s a lot of leasing activity going on at the moment,” said Patterson, noting that some retailers, such as Lululemon, are expanding.

“And the rumour is shopping malls may get pot shops.”

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