Big changes are in store for the Chahko Mika Mall over the coming months as three tenants are displaced to make way for a new Service Canada office.
“It’s a pretty big space, so for us to accommodate them in one unit we had to relocate a few tenants,” says Kevin Wong, director of leasing with the mall’s owner, Wesbuild of Vancouver.
Please Mum, Bentley Leathers, and Northern Reflections are being forced to move. The latter has closed permanently, while the others are still negotiating whether to take other vacant spaces in the mall.
The federal government office, slated to open in late October or early November, will use about 8,500 square feet and handle passport applications and employment insurance claims. (By comparison, Shoppers Drug Mart is 13,000 square feet.)
No one from the federal government has been available to explain the rationale for the move, but it’s understood accessibility is a key reason. Employment and passport services are presently provided on the lower level of Kutenai Place, the provincially owned government building at 333 Victoria Street. Staff work on two floors.
The move is also in line with makeovers to Service Canada centres across the country.
Wong says they have been in talks with the government since last summer. In addition to the three occupied storefronts, the new office will take up a couple of vacancies.
“There are 30 workers who will be working daily at this federal government office so obviously that is great for the mall,” Wong says.
However, it will result in some layoffs at existing businesses.
According to Melanie Laidlaw, director of marketing for Northern Reflections, a women’s casual clothing retailer, the mall wouldn’t help with moving costs, so they made the tough decision to close shop.
“Unfortunately, we haven’t been there very long,” she says. “It hasn’t even been two years. They’re not willing to help us [move to] another space without a big cost we would have to take on.”
She says they initially moved into the mall “because they gave us a nice deal. They built out the space for us and we took it on. Unfortunately we haven’t been there long enough to really have an established clientele and spend a lot of money on a new store.”
Northern Reflections’ last business day is July 24, and then fixtures and stock will be moved to other stores in the chain. Although Laidlaw says they will try to help the five staff being laid off, the closest locations are Cranbrook and Kelowna.
Bentley, a luggage store, which had a temporary lease, closed Thursday. It’s unclear how many people worked there or if they may reopen later. A message with the company’s headquarters was not immediately returned Monday.
Please Mum’s corporate office did not immediately return calls either, although the children’s clothing shop, which has six employees, remains open. Its fate should be known this week.
Wong insisted the changes were good news for the mall.
“I have talked with some of the tenants to make them aware of what is going on and all of the ones I have spoken to are happy,” he said. However, he acknowledged finding new spaces for displaced tenants will take a while, “so there will be some down time where some of these people will be out of work.”
Also on the move is Elephant Mountain beer and wine store, which is leaving its kiosk location outside the mall for a 2,200 square foot storefront between Save-On-Foods and the new government office.
“They have always wanted to be right next to Save-On because of the traffic coming out of the cashiers,” Wong says.
He adds the changes follow $6 million in renos to the mall over the last two years.
— With files from Bob Hall