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Closure of Coles makes Orillia Square re-opening bittersweet

'Time will tell, it’s early days yet, but some stores will struggle to get back I think,' said Orillia Square official

After three long months of closure due to the pandemic, the Orillia Square mall merchants welcomed customers back Friday.

Emer Allen, property manager with BentallGreenOak, says Friday’s re-opening was a success for the local businesses who call the mall home.

"It was a good turnout," she said. "We had a steady stream of people which was quite nice."

Mall staff gave out mugs, pens, and hats to welcome back customers who waited in line to be the first ones back in the mall.

“It was lovely seeing some faces coming through our doors. It was quite exciting,” Allen said.

On Thursday, mall staff organized a physical-distanced pizza party with all the tenants to reflect on being closed and strategize for the re-opening.

“We discussed how we are going to make this work for the tenants. We want to make sure we are getting people back into the mall safely,” Allen explained.

Premier Doug Ford’s announcement of a move to Stage 2 of the province's reopening strategy - including the re-opening of malls earlier last week - caught mall staff and tenants off guard.

“It didn’t give us much time to get ready to open the mall, so not all of the tenants were able to get their staff back and the store up and running, so a couple of stores remained closed,” Allen said.

One store that will not be reopening is Coles. The bookstore chain announced on Friday they will not be returning, and will permanently close their popular book store.

“I’m guessing it’s a corporate decision," lamented Allen. "Typically, in the past some, of the bigger brands close the smaller stores to make the bigger ones more viable and, unfortunately, I think that’s the way it’s going to go for a lot of the corporates."  

Allen fears that other stores in the mall could follow Coles in permanently closing their stores.

“Time will tell, it’s early days yet, but some stores will struggle to get back I think," she said.

While the leasing team at the mall will look for a replacement for the vacant Coles store, Allen and her team will also continue to work on keeping the mall a safe local place to shop. 

Some of the new COVID-19 protocols in place at the mall include directional signage, limited washroom access, and shorter hours of operation. The mall is currently working on an 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule.

The longest-serving mall store is Joseph’s Men’s Clothier. Owners Sal and Seb Chiaramida were thrilled to re-open for business last week.

“It was good. We had a few customers who needed some suits and people were lined up outside some of the stores,” said Sal.

Chiaramida’s business took a massive hit through the pandemic - the months of May through July are the most important months of the year for the men’s dress wear industry.

“It’s tough because we lost all the business from graduations and prom. We had a couple of people who have re-worked their wedding so things that were supposed to be ready for July have been pushed back a month or so,” Chiaramida explained.

Despite the loss of valuable time during the busiest time of the season, Chiaramida never thought about closing for good.

“We were able to survive The landlord has been pretty good to us, giving us a break on the rent,” he said.

“We will see what happens now. Hopefully, it will get busy again.”

Chiaramida says that after Friday, the mall was a quiet place to shop during the weekend.

With the grand opening of the new Canadian Tire (in the former Target space) set for August, and recent mall renovations, Allen is hoping a revitalized mall will help store owners replace lost revenue from the pandemic. 


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Tyler Evans

About the Author: Tyler Evans

Tyler Evans got his start in the news business when he was just 15-years-old and now serves as a video producer and reporter with OrilliaMatters
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