Nfld. & Labrador

The Rec Room in Avalon Mall promising games, drinks, and a dose of nostalgia

A new arcade-bar-restaurant venue in the Avalon Mall is a good indication what the mall of the future will look like, according to a Memorial University business professor.

New entertainment centre set to open in 2019

An arcade area in the Rec Room in Toronto. Spokesperson Sarah Van Lange said Cineplex hopes the Rec Room will be a space for group birthday parties, office parties and bachelorette parties. (Submitted by Cineplex)

A combined restaurant-bar-arcade venue that's set to open in the Avalon Mall next year is a vision of the future of shopping centres, according to one Memorial University of Newfoundland business professor.

The Rec Room will be built by Cineplex in the old arcade space next to its theatres and will open in early 2019, the company announced this week. Along with arcade games, Cineplex says the venue will offer a bar space, an "upscale" restaurant, a performance space and potential room for bowling and axe throwing.

"A little bit of something for everyone," says Sarah Van Lange, a spokesperson for Cineplex.

Along with arcade games and typical concession food like hot dogs, the Rec Room also offers what Cineplex calls an "upscale casual dining restaurant." (Submitted by Cineplex)

Tom Cooper, an associate professor at Memorial University, says the opening of a business that's not centred on shopping is an example of malls shifting to "experience" offerings.

"The mall, over the last 50 years, has been kind of a hub for the community, a place to go spend time with your friends and your family," he said.

"Whether that was through shopping or going to movies or just hanging out in the food court. This…takes it to a different level."

A dose of 'nostalgia'

There are already Rec Room locations in Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto. The venue in St. John's will be the company's first in Atlantic Canada.

Van Lange says the Rec Room model is trying to build on Cineplex's strengths, by bringing together things that they already know how to do.

"We are actually, surprisingly, one of Canada's largest food-service providers," she said. "You don't necessarily think of that when you go into the movie theatre but we serve tons of nachos, tons of hot dogs, tons of pop corn, tons of pop."

Instead of tickets and tokens, the Rec Room locations use smart bracelets to track cash and prizes. (Submitted by Cineplex)

Similarly, she says with the existing arcade areas near their cinemas, Cineplex is also one of the biggest gaming companies in the country.

To customers, the Rec Room offers something else.

"There's a sense of nostalgia when you go into the Rec Room," she said.

"Whenever I go, it's like all of a sudden it's okay to be a kid again, and you're allowed to play."

A sign of the future

Cooper said the venue will offer the Avalon Mall something extra, when compared to other local shopping centres and shopping online.

Tom Cooper is an associate professor at Memorial University. (Courtesy David Howells and Memorial University)

"I think what that helps do is develop a clear value proposition," he said. "There's a value to going into the mall and going shopping whereby you have a place where you can bring your children, they can go play some games, you can have a drink."

Cooper said trends across the country — like online shopping and an aging population — will encourage other malls to make this type of shift.

"Malls have been really only around for about 60 years, and so we have to kind of ask the question: What is a mall going to look like in the future? I think this is very much a kind of an indication of what it's going to look like in the future, where it's just as much about experiences as it is about buying stuff."

Van Lange says Cineplex has found that Rec Room locations attract people on their own, even if most of the existing locations are near big shopping centres.

Big investment

Van Lange wouldn't disclose how much Cineplex plans to spend to build their St. John's facility.

Cineplex is taking over the old Starcade location in the Avalon Mall. It will also be expanding the space's footprint to fit their new business. (CBC)

She did say the company tends to spent about $230 per square foot, and the new venue is planned to be 30,000 square feet. That gives an estimate of nearly $7 million.

There is still some disposable income left in St. John's, despite a sluggish economy, and signs that could improve, according to Cooper.

"This is a long-term strategic decision," he said.

With files from Stephanie Kinsella