(PHOTO: Jhoanna and Nick Prinzo stand in front of Classy Kids, their retail store on Stittsville Main Street. Photo by Devyn Barrie.)
Call it the tale of two plazas. Dollarama and Shoppers Drug Mart may seem like big attractions for the Stittsville Shopping Centre at 1300 Stittsville Main St, but a former store owner said they hardly send any customers to the other businesses in the plaza.
“It’s ridiculous, you wouldn’t think so, but it is,” said Sandy Edwards, former owner of Dandelion Consignment, which closed earlier this year.
There are a few things wrong with the plaza, she said. She narrowed them down to a lack of competition, near-zero foot traffic and annually increasing rents – all contributed to her closing in February after six years in business.
Around this time of the year most businesses are negotiating their leases — always a hassle, Edwards said.
“In our dealings with (the landlord), any time we tried to negotiate our lease there was no negotiating at all,” Edwards said. “They gave us a price. (That was it).”
Because her business was not profitable (she said she never took a salary) she couldn’t manage the rent increases.
The plaza at 1300 Stittsville Main Street is owned and managed by Choice Properties, a publicly-traded real estate investment trust created by Loblaws in 2013. The company owns 537 properties across Canada, most of which are anchored around a Loblaws location, according to its website. (Shoppers Drug Mart is also owned by Loblaws.)
Edwards isn’t the only business owner with problems.
“I don’t know what their endgame is,” said Deborah Rothenberg of Pottery Playhouse, kneading clay in her hands as she spoke on a Monday afternoon in early August.
“As it stands now, they are asking way too much,” she said. “They just came back and said this is what your new rent will be.”
She’s prepared to leave if Choice Properties won’t budge and said she’s already looked at a potential alternate property.
Depending on who you ask, the issue of the landlord and low foot traffic may be one and the same.
A strip mall like this relies on foot traffic as a source of customers, but both Rothenberg and Edwards said in separate interviews that there is hardly any.
“There is no foot traffic,” concurred Nick Prinzo, co-owner of Classy Kids, a new kids-only clothing store that opened in early June. “I thought there was gonna be more.”
Edwards and Rothenberg said the situation could be improved by having a better mix of businesses in the northwest portion of the plaza which could attract customers away from Dollarama and Shoppers, where they say most foot traffic goes.
“They put the two biggest foot traffic locations at one end,” Rothenberg said. Meanwhile, units on her end of the lot are sitting empty – such as the former location of Dandelion Consignment, next to Gaia Java.
Choice Properties said in an unsigned emailed statement that Dollarama and Shoppers are meant to act as anchors for the plaza.
“To address market demand, our sites are typically anchored by national brand retailers, such as Shoppers Drug Mart and Dollarama, which are both located at our Stittsville site.”
The statement did not address other questions about rent increases and openness to negotiations.
“We continually look to attract compelling and complementary tenants to serve the needs of the local community,” it said, in response to a question about empty units. “In addition, we actively market all available space in our portfolio to achieve high occupancy rates.
“We believe continued investment in our portfolio, including our Stittsville site, will attract consumers and tenants alike.”
Another way foot traffic could be improved is by having more competition, Edwards said.
“Competition is good for retail because it brings in more of the public,” she said.
A time ago Milano Pizza tried to get into the plaza but was turned away due to a competition clause with another food business, she said.
“That would have been incredible,” and foot traffic would have been exponentially higher, she said, acknowledging that competition clauses are quite common in strip malls.
Only after Edwards’ store closed did another clothing store, Classy Kids, open. And they have their own complaints.
Nick Prinzo and his wife Jhoanna had troubles before they even opened their doors to the public.
“We were trying to open up earlier, but we had issues with the landlord,” Nick told StittsvilleCentral.ca in an interview on August 1.
He did not go into specifics but said issues popped up in the negotiation of their lease that delayed opening. They are also being required to remove the sign above their business because the one they already paid to install was too big, he said.