New Horizon Mall sitting mostly empty following summer opening

A trip to the New Horizon Mall makes for a lonely, if not slightly post-apocalyptic, experience.

$200M mall north of Calgary billed as “retail revolution” only has nine stores so far

Stores at the New Horizon Mall sit empty. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

A trip to the New Horizon Mall makes for a lonely, if not slightly post-apocalyptic, experience.

The mammoth mall was billed as a modern, international bazaar with an Asian flavour, opening quietly this summer just outside Calgary, south of the CrossIron Mills megamall.

But of its 517 retail units, only nine — less than 2% — are currently occupied and open for business, despite the mall being open since June.

A Korean cosmetics store was the first to open but since then only eight others have followed. The rest of the immaculate glass-fronted retail units sit empty, most displaying 'for lease' signs.

It's a difficult task to stumble on one of the occupied stores in the vast 320,000 square-foot mall, where the only sounds are the whir of redundant escalators or a realtor giving a hushed tour to a worried-looking prospect.

There are hundreds more for lease signs than shoppers at the New Horizon Mall north of Calgary but businesses remain optimistic about the mall’s future. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

It's not the start business owners envisaged but most remain upbeat about the mall's future.

"It takes merchants time to realize that this is the opportunity that will pay off soon," said Mirza Tahir, who set up a print shop in the mall.

"As the mall gets filled it will become everything that we thought of before we got into business. It's going to grow but you have to have a lot of patience and you've got to go with it," said Tahir.

"If you quit too early you could get out and give it back and five years down the road it will cost you more to get back in," he said.

Mirza Tahir opened a printing business in the mall and says he’s willing to wait for the mall to reach its potential, despite the slow start. He is confident that more and more merchants will get on board in the coming months. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

Nearly every retail unit in this mall is privately owned, rather than the more commonplace model where stores lease space from the mall's owners.

Earlier this summer the mall said it was 99% sold. Now it just needs businesses to breathe life into it.

The mall also needs to attract 27 food businesses to its eerily empty food court, complete with an expanse of gleaming new tables, chairs and garbage units.

Sabi Mattu is the latest to open up shop at the mall adding a perfume boutique to the mix. He feels the mall will eventually come good with more and more businesses opening their doors.

"I'm excited and today we held a mini celebration," said Mattu, who even flew in a holy man from India to perform a spiritual blessing in his store to bring good luck and success as he shared the moment with family members.

Sabi Mattu is New Horizon Mall’s latest business owner. He is opening a perfume boutique selling perfumes and accessories including watches and purses. He believes others will follow. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"I know I won't be alone and next month there will be 50 shops opening and in another month 100 so it will take time but it will be good," said Mattu.

Others that didn't want to be interviewed on the record spoke about their frustration at what they see as a lack of action, promotion and marketing by the mall's management.

One owner said nobody had been in his store to make a purchase in five days. Another already paying rent on a unit yet to open says he's shocked and angry about how empty the mall is months after opening.

98% of the units in the 320,000 square foot mall sit empty, waiting for owners to lease them out or open a store themselves. The opening date for the mall has been pushed back till 2019. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

The mall was supposed to hold its grand opening event late in October. That event has now been pushed back to an undetermined date in 2019.

"I don't know exactly what month it will be but it will probably be geared toward next spring," said an upbeat Jason Babiuk, General Manager at New Horizon Mall.

"We've got another 40 to 50 build outs that we're doing right now and nothing but positive responses from our current owners and a lot of the public that come in here," said Babiuk.

Jason Babiuk, General Manager at New Horizon Mall says it’s been a slow start but they are making progress and now offering new incentives for owners to open businesses or lease them to others. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"CrossIron Mills across the street took approximately three to three and-a-half years to get their mall full," he said, adding some owners are still deciding what types of business to open.

The mall is replacing its grand opening with a fall festival event on October 27th to try and raise its profile.

Babiuk says it's also now offering $5000 in incentives for owners that can open before December 31, 2018 to try and get more units occupied before the new year.

"Rome can't be built in a day, we are very positive, we know this mall will be successful and will be the premier shopping destination for the outer Calgary limits," Babiuk said.

About the Author

Dan McGarvey

Journalist

Dan McGarvey is a mobile journalist covering all kinds of stories from northeast Calgary for web, radio, TV and social media, using only an iPhone and mobile tech. You can email story ideas and tips to Dan at: dan.mcgarvey@cbc.ca or tweet him @DanMcGarvey