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When N.L. feared that shopping centres were taking over

In 1980, small businesses were growing concerned about all the new shopping centres in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Shopping malls had captured one-third of retail sales as of 1980

Big shopping centres doing big business

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41 years ago
1:39
By 1980, large shopping centres had captured more than a third of retail sales in Newfoundland and Labrador. 1:39

In 1981, small businesses were growing concerned about all the new shopping centres in Newfoundland and Labrador — namely that they were capturing an ever-increasing portion of the available business in the province.

"In the past 15 years, the new centres have captured 34 per cent of retail sales across the province," the CBC's John McQuaker said, when giving an overview of the trend on The National on April 2, 1980.

"Small businesses are getting worried that they may lose out completely to large mainland firms."

It wasn't just CBC noticing the influence of these large malls on life in Newfoundland: The Globe and Mail, just two months earlier, had reported on the boom times in and around St. John's where "[suburban] shopping malls are as big and antiseptic as Toronto's and parking lots are jammed."

McQuaker said these kinds of large shopping centres, often built on the edge of cities and towns, offered their customers free parking and the chance to shop at big national department stores. 

Bigger stores, more parking

By the start of the 1980s, businesses in downtown parts of towns and cities in Newfoundland were facing increased competition from large shopping centres that were typically built on the outskirts of these areas. (The National/CBC Archives)

What they were offering was hard for small independent stores to compete with.

"Local businesses, generally in the old downtown area with narrow streets and little parking, lose out in two ways," explained McQuaker.

"If they stay downtown, they find customers have left and if they try to move into the new centre, they find local stores have to pay much higher rent than the large national stores. That, they say, is unfair."

Some feared that the trend could eventually see all the province's small retailers go under, meaning Newfoundlanders would become dependent on those large retailers.

The province's Independent Business Association wanted the provincial government to set up guidelines for development to ensure that downtown retail could thrive into the future — and not encourage shopping centres to set up shop just outside of city limits and draw away business from downtown areas.

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