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Holiday Retail Recap: Area malls ring up solid end to 2005
By Kristin Harold, Ottawa Business Journal Staff
Wed, Jan 18, 2006 3:00 PM EST

Cindy Van Buskirk. (Darren Brown, OBJ)

The appeal of new stores and an increase in gift card and Boxing Day sales helped a number of local malls enjoy a successful holiday season this year.

While most retailers won't have their year-end figures until the end of the month, surges in mall traffic and sales predictions at St. Laurent Centre, Rideau Centre and Carlingwood Shopping Centre point to good news in the retail sector.

Many St. Laurent retailers experienced surprising results, says general manager Gord McMillan.

"December around here was very healthy, with a lot of bags going out the door," he says. "I've heard some high-end increases around 25 to 30 per cent at retailers that I wouldn't normally expect, especially one of the larger men's clothing stores."

Mr. McMillan says the east-end mall's food court area also continued to be a big draw for customers.

"Our food court did extremely well – when we renovated it October two years ago we saw about an 18-per-cent increase and we've maintained that all along," he says. "I talked to a food court merchant yesterday who saw a 22- to 23-per-cent increase."

Although the traffic and sales figures haven't been finalized, early numbers suggest a seven- to eight-per-cent increase in traffic volume during December. However, he says they did see a slight decrease in November.

"We're actually quite surprised because we were cautiously optimistic about the season and we thought it would be OK," he adds. "But my sense is that it was a lot better than OK, which would have been 3.4 or five per cent (sales increase), and I'm hoping for an eight- to 10-per-cent increase. That would be very good especially considering the performance over the last year."

Results are also positive at Rideau Centre, although marketing director Cindy Van Buskirk says the downtown mall did see traffic "flatten out" in November and December, with overall traffic for 2005 decrease 0.9 per cent.

However, she says shoppers flocked to the mall during the pre-Christmas period (Dec. 20-24) and the centre saw a 2.3-per-cent increase in traffic over the same period last year. Boxing Day sales were also very popular this year with stores reporting surprising numbers.

"Boxing Day traffic increased 11 per cent this year over last year and that's a big increase," she says. "Boxing Week traffic (Dec. 26-31) also increased 2.7 per cent over the same period last year."

Ms. Van Buskirk says another surprising result for the year was the large increase in gift certificate sales and the mall is reporting a total increase of 36.5 per cent in sales in 2005 over 2004. The gift card sales for the year totaled $1,143,930 with 43 per cent of those purchases taking place between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31, 2005.

She says overall holiday sales are looking positive and she attributes these increases to the popularity and options presented by mall's new tenant mix.

"With lots of great new stores like Aritzia, lululemon, Banana Republic and Old Navy giving customers even more reasons to choose Rideau Centre for their holiday shopping, our retailers enjoyed a busy and very successful season," she says. "Customer traffic in November and December was comparable to 2004, however sales increased five per cent in November and are forecast to show an increase of five to six per cent in December."

The manager of the Carlingwood Shopping Centre also says its retailers enjoyed brisk traffic and healthy sales figures.

"We still don't have the final sales for December yet, but in November our volume sales were up 5.3 per cent and traffic was up between one and two per cent, which would suggest people were spending more this year," says Denis Pelletier.

He says he expects December's sales to not be quite as high, but still in the range of a one-to two-per-cent increase, with overall year-end sales expected to be up by two to three per cent over 2004.

"Given the amount of competition that's available for consumers, for our mall to be up two or three per cent is definitely a success," says Mr. Pelletier. "One of the reasons is we're still receiving praise from our customers about the renovations we did a few years ago. The mall was looking a bit tired and we refurbished it, added more seating and just made it more comfortable."

He also attributes the increase in sales and traffic to the mall's new bargain store, its strong anchor with Sears and its easier access.

"Our size is attractive to many consumers because we're not a large regional shopping mall, so our parking is more convenient and on one level and you can get a lot done in a short period of time," he says. "We were impacted a few years ago by all of the new retail opening up in Barrhaven, but the newness has faded and I think we're on a competitive level now. We have a very loyal customer base."

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