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Park Royal leans on diverse store mix during pandemic

Mall’s greater “depth of field,” out-of-area customers helped it overcome COVID-19 challenges
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As travel restrictions loosen, Park Royal in West Vancouver is looking at adding new tenants that offer experiences that shoppers can’t get elsewhere.

Like many other retail hubs, the Park Royal Shopping Centre saw its share of empty storefronts as businesses faced unprecedented headwinds after the initial wave of the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions in late 2020.

Flash forward to a weekday morning in April 2022, and the mall was humming. Customers filled outdoor tables surrounding Park Royal Village’s Caffe Artigiano, while car and pedestrian traffic was visible throughout the shopping centre’s premises.

“We are still doing our analysis because we are not 100 per cent out of the woods yet,” said Park Royal general manager Karen Donald, who noted that the true scale of the retail recovery will only become apparent by the summer and later in the year.

“You’ve had a very dormant period where all retailers were not allowed to travel. There were budding expansion plans where [companies] just hit the pause button.… So we are just now getting retailers poking their heads out to see where they’d want to go. [2022] is a year of pending recovery, where you are starting to see expansion plans moving again.”

But Donald added that she is happy to see COVID restrictions lifted and a return to stronger foot traffic. While the mall lost businesses during the pandemic, several new ones opened, which has allowed Park Royal to emerge from the pandemic on relatively strong footing.

There are challenges, however. The labour shortage is one issue, said Park Royal marketing director Christine Piers. She said that’s why mall management continues to offer stores flexible opening hours.

Donald added that the mall has developed a better appreciation of retail diversity. She said that as the pandemic lingered, the demand for some goods changed, necessitating a renewed focus on retail mix.

Piers said that while Metro Vancouver saw a dramatic decline in international visitors due to travel restrictions, Park Royal benefited from the secondary local market: shoppers who live in the Lower Mainland but did not usually come to West Vancouver to shop.

Looking for a new retail experience without needing to leave town, they often looked to places like Park Royal as an alternative.

But Piers noted that Park Royal will have to again compete with out-of-market options now that travel restrictions are loosened.

Park Royal is already looking at a list of new candidates to add to Park Royal’s roster of tenants, she said, and a major focus will be experiences that shoppers can’t get elsewhere.

Examples include fashion department store Simons, whose only B.C. location is at Park Royal, and car rack brand Thule, which opened its first Canadian storefront at Park Royal Village late last year.

“You always want to try to increase your depth of field,” Donald said. “We were lucky to attract a number of stores that were first to market … and we are always looking for the newest and the best. It’s a curated assembly of new tenants, and we will continue to push to bring in even more brands that people love, haven’t seen before and can’t get elsewhere.” •