With Sears headed for exit, what will replace Midtown Plaza's 2nd biggest tenant?

Clothing retailers may be interested, or the owner of the mall could subdivide the space to allow for more than one new store, says one real estate watcher.

It won't become a dead spot, says real estate watcher

The Sears outlet in Saskatoon's Midtown Plaza, slated to close like all others across Canada. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

For as long as lifelong 47-year-old Saskatoon resident Brent Penner has been alive, "Sears has been a thing," he says.

The wellspring of so many Christmas gift ideas, specifically.

"I remember when the catalogue would come to the house and that would be the way you'd look at what your wish list might be for Santa," says Penner.

But whether Sears survives another holiday season remains to be seen.

On Friday, an Ontario Supreme Court judge approved the national retailer's plan to liquidate all of its still-operating locations, including the one in Saskatoon's Midtown Market.

Which raises a question: what will eventually happen to the huge space Sears occupies in Saskatoon's largest mall?

160,000 square feet

Terry Napper, who manages the mall from Calgary on behalf of owner Kingsett Capital, isn't willing to go there yet.

"Out of respect for the employees that still work there, we do not want to make any comments of any internal conversations we've been having about that space," said Napper.

At 160,000 square feet, though, Sears is the second largest tenant in the Midtown Plaza, behind only The Bay (which occupies three floors and 180,000 square feet) but larger than third-place Toys R Us.

At 160,000 square feet, Sears is the mall's second largest tenant. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Josh Walchuk, a senior sales associate and partner at ICR Commercial Real Estate, says the Sears spot may be especially desirable for some.

"I think a lot tenants, the national clothing retailers, that's where they really want to be," he said of the Midtown Plaza.

Kingsett may also subdivide the space given that "the old-school department store format doesn't really exist much anymore," he added. 

"When the initial announcement that Sears was going to close certain stores in limited markets [came], I think  everybody saw the writing was on the wall.

"But I would assume that the landlord probably was talking [all along] to tenants in other centres they have and in their retail industry to try and get that interest going early and say, 'Hey, in the event that they do vacate, here's an opportunity.'"

'People like new things'

The space certainly won't become a dead hole, says Walchuk, likening the current situation to when the Preston Crossing shopping area opened up opportunities along 8th Street.

"There was a lot of fear that all of sudden 8th Street would become a ghost town because all of the tenants were going to leave 8th Street and it was going to become a bunch of empty windows and shops.

"It didn't happen. All that happened is opportunity for other retailers who couldn't get on that street before."

Penner, the executive director of Saskatoon's downtown business improvement district, hopes to see a new-to-Saskatoon retailer move into the Sears location.

"People like new things," said Penner. 

Citing Victoria's Secret as an example, "Midtown has done a good job over the last few years of looking big-picture at what people in Saskatoon and the surrounding area might previously traveled to Edmonton, Calgary or even further points to and to bring those here."

David Williams, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Saskatchewan's Edwards School of Business, thinks it's possible that in the long term, a portion of the space could be converted into more office space or even a restaurant. 

"It is a pivotal corner with lots of traffic," he said. 

About the Author

Guy Quenneville

Reporter and web writer for CBC Saskatoon

Story tips, ideas, complaints, just want to say 'Hi'? Write me at guy.quenneville@cbc.ca