Does Innisfil Need Big Box Stores?

Does Innisfil need Big Box stores? [Click to vote in the latest Our Innisfil Poll.] I’m just asking because we seem to be getting mixed signals from different directions. After waiting years, apparently in vain, for the ‘right economic conditions’, Canadian Tire has

backed away from building a new store and gas bar in Alcona. That’s after a last fiscal quarter ending in October 2011 in which Canadian Tire’s retail sales rose 16.3% and basic earnings per share rose to $1.68 from $1.23. (The company still owns the Alcona property but forfeits $173,000 for ‘site remediation’.) Trinity Square was originally intended to create over 109,000 square feet of retail space.

When I posted a poll in February last year, the few readers that responded mostly (63%) felt that Canadian Tire was taking advantage of the Town by negotiating preferential development charges and then failing to follow through with the project. (To be fair, a poll is not statistically valid and only a small number voted.)

Retail Activity Estimated to Double in 20 Years

In November, the Town received a consultant’s report on the retail potential in Innisfil. (Retail Demand Study, Alcona Settlement Area, Tate Economic Research, June 2011). It concluded that retail activity in Innisfil will more than double in 20 years and that:

  • expenditure potential generated from Innisfil residents in 2010 is estimated at $254.7 million.  By 2021 expenditure potential is forecast to increase to $400.3 million.
  • By 2031, expenditure potential is forecast to more than double the 2010 level increasing up to a level $612.1 million.
  • forecast population growth “will generate the market demand for approximately 1.4 million square feet of retail space in the vicinity of the Alcona Settlement Area and its adjacent north and south expansion areas currently being planned by the Town”.

For comparison, Cookstown Outlet Mall is about 164,000 square feet. The three largest retailers in Alcona are Sobeys (43,900 SF), No Frills (37,000 SF) and Home Hardware (13,600 SF).

The report predicts that:

  • Food Oriented Retail (FOR) expenditures in Innisfil will increase from 58% to 64% by 2021. (Note that 42% of current food-related purchases are being made outside Innisfil)
  • Non-Food Oriented Retail (NFOR) expenditures in Innisfil will increase from almost 11% to more than 50% by 2021 (i.e. – almost anything else we want to buy is not available from a local retailer)

Innisfil Lacks Higher Order Retailing

Residents of Innisfil currently do most of their shopping outside of Innisfil. “Approximately two thirds of all Town residents’ expenditures are made at retailers located outside of Innisfil.” Almost 52% of expenditures are made in Barrie and 10% in Bradford-West Gwillimbury including Newmarket.

According to the report, Innisfil is lacking in “higher order” retail such as “a community shopping centre, a regional shopping centre or a power centre”. To some degree that may change with the new ownership and expansion of Cookstown Outlet Mall, which will be known, in future, as Tanger Centre. How much more ‘big box’ shopping Innisfil needs is a matter of preference. Anyone on a tight budget likes discount department stores, and these days that includes just about all of us, but especially families with young children and a big mortgage. What’s the right balance for Innisfil? And what’s the right time, if the focus now is on creating a commercial core in Alcona?

Is Big Box Shopping Sustainable?

Some people are uneasy about replicating in Innisfil the type of retail landscape that typically characterizes the edges of most communities. Anyone who watched the CBC Marketplace investigation of retail service knows why. Large national retail chains – Zellers, Canadian Tire, and Walmart – were identified by shoppers as having the worst customer service. But isn’t retailing a service? Aren’t we being short-changed on service in exchange for a lower price? When the shopper is doing all the work, online shopping makes sense.

This retail structure also imposes its own values on the host community, affecting quality of life for workers in those organizations:

  • Low wages
  • Open 24 hours / 7 days a week / holidays
  • Shift work schedules
  • Seldom 2 days off combined
  • No / few weekends for employees
  • Few employment benefits

How does that type of life affect your family life or community life? Is it any wonder that major retailers have high staff turnover, poorly motivated staff and poor service? Large chains are at the end of a global conduit for low priced goods from low wage foreign suppliers dependent on cheap oil for delivery. They are staffed just enough to service the store by stocking shelves, not to service customers.

Is there an alternative for Innisfil? There is a trend among some chains to shift to ‘smaller’ formats – but still substantial by existing Innisfil standards. According to the report “there are opportunities for markets like Innisfil to attract major retailers.”:

  • The introduction of smaller market store formats and the on-going modernization of existing store networks by several leading retailers operating in Canada continue to create demand for new shopping centre locations.
  • The recent announcement of various major international retailers coming to Canada is anticipated to generate additional competition for shopping centre space throughout the province.

I was curious to know what other trends are expected in the retail industry. I came across this interesting post: Retail trends 2011 (and beyond) part 2.  Innisfil retailers may want to check it out too.


4 thoughts on “Does Innisfil Need Big Box Stores?

  1. I see these types of issues in the following perspective…

    The Story of 3 Different Towns and Their Highway Shopping Issues

    1. Bradford exit at 88/400 in the last few years has experienced a boom in retail development on their road leading into the traditional historical downtown district of Bradford. From the Husky Gas Centre at 88 there are vital and attractive shopping options for 400 highway traffic to quickly exit the highway and shop locally for products and services in Bradford WG. Their historic downtown now has a chance to revitalize itself since their town officials have pulled the 400 highway traffic off the highway as a starting point. Bradford has the cars off the 400 highway in the vicinity of their downtown businesses now.

    2. Barrie has 5 highway exits, and the traffic congestion on Bayfield is well known and growing issues at Mapleview (formerly Molson Park Rd) exit are creating concerns over traffic congestion there too. In addition, Barrie’s downtown district is struggling to survive as business after business fails and the city of Barrie attempts to revitalize a declining downtown.

    3. Then we have Innisfil’s two highway exits at 89/400 and Innisfil Beach Rd. Here the town has the opportunity to showcase Innisfil business and drive 400 traffic off the highway to shop locally in Innisfil if conducted properly. The expanded Cookstown Outlet Mall could assist in that. However the MacDonalds/Petro Canada service centre at 89/400 is scheduled for redevelopment by the OnRoute organization which will build a multi fast food complex with a Canadian Tire Gas Bar could do more.

    This will draw and capture the majority of gas, burger and fries and ice cream cone purchases which Cookstown and Innisfil merchants ever dreamed to hope to sell and if the town and tourism operators do not partner with the OnRoute centre in a meaningful way, Cookstown will further decline. …. [comment has been edited here]

    We look forward to promoting local tourism in Simcoe County with the Jack Lynch reports and our own tourism editorial recommedations for FREE and at no charge as our radio station 96.9 FM is a non commercial tourism information radio license from the CRTC. We have our own private web site and our own private tourism information hotline telephone call centre at 705-999-3673 which tourists and residents can call to enter contests and to listen to local tourism attractions and events.

    Douglas Edwards
    Tourism Radio

    • Doug, I appreciate your interest in this blog and wish you well with Tourism Radio. You were getting off topic so I had to edit your comment to a more reasonable length. Contact Doug directly or check his website if you’d like to know more.
      Are you saying that having big box stores close to Bradford’s main commercial strip is good for business? Is that what you’d recommend for Alcona? Or are you saying a commercial centre should be developed at the highway? Or is Tourism Radio intended to help local retailers hold their own and attract new business off the highway?

  2. A very relevant topic considering Canadian Tire’s pull out. How about the fact that a significant heritage building on the site was demolished leaving the people of Innisfil with nothing but an empty field.
    Major development is intended for the wrong geographic area. The centre of Innisfil should be Yonge St. and Innisfil Beach Rd. There will be no major retailers willing to be buried somewhere along a dead end road. It’s absolutely ridiculous to continue willy nilly until the town centre is established in a more practical and convenient location for future growth.
    I recommend a civilian oversite committee be established to make sure that the direction of development is monitored by the citizens and is not left in the hands of local politicians who are so clearly out of their element.

    • Thanks for the reminder about the loss of our heritage building. No amount of remediation will bring it back. I vaguely recall hearing some discussion a few years ago about trying to encourage more north-south traffic flow closer to the lake because Innisfil Beach Road was expected to be more congested and greater east-west flows were seen as disruptive to existing agricultural activities.

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