Thursday, December 23, 2010

Mulling Willow West Mall

As I've noted before, in all the development talk in the City, there's not a lot of discussion about redeveloping already developed areas of Guelph for new commercial and industrial purposes. On the one hand that could mean brownfield development, which did actually get some play in the election, and on the other hand there's properties like Willow West Mall.
WWM is the ignored older step child of the two mall kids in our town. It was the first, and all the parenting skills were tested on it, and the lessons there in gathered were put to better use when dad remarried and his second wife gave birth to Stone Road Mall. Allegory aside, WWM is a victim of not just disinterest, but location. In the years since of its construction, the area around Willow West Mall has become a, shall we say, less-advantaged area of the city. The area isn't thought of well, and indeed, the area does seem to show the signs of being one of the poorer areas of the City.
Let me say though, that these are my own empirical observations as someone who lives in the area. Willow Road is not South Central and is, in some respects, very pleasant. That being said, the stretch of Willow between Silvercreek and Edinburgh has become the repository for a lot of low-income people in the City. By this standard, the coming improvements to Willow West Mall could be seen as an act of gentrification. Zellers, the former southend anchor of WWM, a store that sold a variety of low cost goods, is being replaced by a furniture store, Leon's. It was pointed out by Maggie Laidlaw in a debate during the election, this is a move that's not going to mean a lot to the people in the immediate area of Willow West Mall who could easily take advantage of Zellers and its low cost goods, but no longer can't. 
 It's a fair question, but there is the other thing to consider: that for pretty much the last decade, Willow West Mall has sat in a near constant state of half-capicity. Something had to be done and that something was a long time in coming. Leon's, yeah, not a great fit for the area, but will it attract consumers from around Guelph to the area? Absolutely. It was also reported in the Guelph Mercury this past summer that Giant Tiger would be joining the mall's new development, and thus might adequitely fill the demand for a discount retailer in the area. No Frills will also remain, as will Dollar Giant, but need for grocery and dollar stores aren't at a loss in the Willow West area.
Certainly, the West End is better set up, in general for commercial accomedation than, let's say, the southern most and eastern most sections of the City, but this isn't about that. In the case of the renovations of Willow West Mall, it's going to have to do a lot of different things. It's going to have to continue to service the people of the area while trying to find away to attract shoppers from other parts of the City and offer them something that they can't get in other commercial areas of Guelph. It'll be interesting to see the end result, and what affect these changes will have on the area.



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