SAINT JOHN – If you’ve been paying attention to business news uptown over the past couple of months, you may think Brunswick Square has been having a rough go of it.
You wouldn’t be wrong. For the past several years, with many of its retailers closing their doors, very few replaced them. Since December, two second-floor shops have closed their doors and another one plans to leave this month.
It’s not a good look and people are talking about it – online and offline.
The second floor still gets a significant amount of foot traffic every day, but many walk past closed doors to the shops and services that remain. The mall’s third level is another story altogether:
The unfortunate part is that Brunswick Square actually has something a lot of malls don’t. As part of the inside pedway system that connects the Saint John City Market to Harbour Station, a large number of people walk through it every day to get to work, school, grab lunch, and get to events.
To be fair, this isn’t just a Saint John problem. Urban malls, and malls in general, have been facing challenges across North America with the rise of online shopping and the appeal of owning a street-front brick and mortar shop. Yet it’s fair to want to know what’s being done with this giant piece of real estate in the heart of Saint John’s uptown.
Huddle reached out to Slate Asset Management, the Toronto-based company that manages Brunswick Square to find out what its plans for the mall are and what’s being done to attract new tenants. They didn’t get back to us with a response before publication.
With no concrete answers yet, we at Huddle decided it was time to let our imaginations run wild.
We ask some folks in the community and on Facebook about what they would like to happen at Brunswick Square. Here’s what they had to say:
Bob McVicar, Real Estate Agent:
“I’ve been a realtor uptown for 15 years and I’ve lived uptown for almost 30. Before that, I was a senior retail executive for over 20 years with major responsibilities for site selection across Canada for several retail chains.
With the significantly undocumented surge in the residential population on the peninsula, it should be time now that a major national grocery chain sees a business case for a small format operation. The lower level of Brunswick Square would be ideal. All the major nationals like Sobeys and Loblaws have these small-format stores. Usually in the 10,000 to 15,000 square-foot range?
In addition, a nice small format Home Hardware would be nice. You can’t buy a good screwdriver or can of paint uptown.”
Alexander Dickens (Facebook):
“I’d like to see it gutted, move all the stores/offices to the lower levels and turn the rest into condos.
Probably not feasible, but at least redo all the lighting. Brunswick Square is dated, and honestly, a depressing place to shop.”
Laura Smith (Facebook):
“I would love to see some sort of community space. A dedicated pop-up space that could be rented by the week or month for small businesses to do events or showcases. Renovating the third floor with a roller rink around would be amazing, but I know it would create sound issues for the retail spaces below. A daycare to provide mall hour coverage for staff in the mall would be amazing.”
Donna Reardon, Saint John City Councillor, Ward 3:
“I would like to see a lot more retail in Brunswick Square. I know they wanted the third floor to go to an anchor tenant. Sobeys does the niche neighbourhood grocery stores. I would like to see a movie theatre there, but a real one that has a bar in it, like an upscale movie theatre. There are all kinds of components that make the uptown more interesting and enjoyable. They should have somebody researching that and then chasing those things. I would like to see them do a little bit more work to chase some things.”
David Hickey, Saint John City Councillor, Ward 3:
“As Donna said, there isn’t that anchor tenant, something like a grocery store. In downtown Ottawa, Sobeys has their little corner grocery store. Now it’s getting awfully depressing there on the third floor where there is nothing left. We still got that old Starbucks corner that’s empty, so you’re seeing that empty out pretty quick.
I think part of it is the transition of the market and the attraction to Canterbury Street now. I know that’s where Paddington Station’s going.”
Mike Donally (Facebook):
“Casino, already has the hotel there and [paid] parking.”
Kelly Lawson, Photographer and Entrepreneur:
“I think, increasingly, the modern-generation fulfills their consumer and social needs online, and malls have become little more than a generic experience city to city, void of unique offerings, especially when stacked against the unique retail experience offered from our historically rich Saint John infrastructure. It’s time to bring the word ‘experience’ back to the forefront of the conversation.
With the sky as the limit, I would love to see the space reinvented to include mixed-use entertainment. Where working and playing can co-habitate. Imagine a place where co-working space(s), zip lines, roller-coasters, waterslides, and movie theatres, share the same roof. The kind of things that can’t be replaced with the internet and a smartphone, flanked by hotels, in the heart of our city.”
Katherine Biggs-Craft (Facebook):
“It would be great to have space for local products to be sold – including clothes, crafts, home decor, unique items – and international foods. Perhaps as an extension of the Queen’s Square Market, Lily Lake Market, Cedarcrest Market, and all the wonderful international foods in those spots. As well as space that could be used by more than one vendor so that people could [find] something different every day or every week – and give those one-person businesses a break. We know this is popular for those of us who live here and what a great opportunity to reach the visitors to Saint John.
Also look at what people moving into the uptown need for everyday life, although I would rather see grocery/produce in the City Market to represent that historic use. Also, brighter lighting, brighter colours and regular entertainment by local groups during lunch hours and on weekends.”
Ingrid Woodhouse, Owner of BunkHaus Boutique Hostel:
“Turn the whole thing into a university (preferably for architecture and design). Not building the university uptown was a huge mistake. We all know that. But perhaps few feel it as strongly as small businesses do. The low foot traffic and small uptown population result in many failing businesses and unoccupied storefronts every year. Our city is beautiful and has so much potential. We don’t need another massive condominium complex, museum, or more stores. We need people. And a university delivers just that. Let’s make the uptown core vibrant with students because only then will we have the population base and demographic needed to support businesses and a thriving music scene that will entice people to visit our historic city.”
Jeff Boucher (Facebook):
“What would be really neat to see is a complete redevelopment of the space to a full entertainment complex. Have an IMAX/Rec Room entertainment business operate. Have a Skyzone/rock climbing facility. Turn the entire mall into one big indoor fun zone. The food court on the lower level would remain to serve office and fun zone customers alike. There could even be a zip line option from the upper levels. There is potential for whoever wants to create the potential. Lots of fun for cruise ship passengers. Also, space could be used for local artists to showcases goods and share this space with buskers at the same time when cruise ships dock.”
Deanna Musgrave, Artist:
“In my opinion, Saint John’s growth, tourism and sustainability is better served focusing on its built heritage and high-quality contemporary architecture which gives a better experience which the internet can’t replicate. Anything that we traditionally conceive of going into a mall can go into a beautiful historical building and this should be the priority for Saint John. Despite this value I hold, I also don’t believe in waste and so, for better or worse, the community has to deal with Brunswick Square, which is going to require creativity and out-of-the-box thinking.
The focus for businesses in buildings should be on creating real connection and aesthetic experiences because it is something that online stores can’t replicate. All businesses in buildings have to redefine themselves as a location for meaningful interactions and connections to occur through an activity that isn’t shopping.
The only thing Brunswick Square has going for it is that it provides an indoor location with the potential of lots of walking. This can appeal to youth who need an indoor location to hang out that isn’t a bar, those at risk of injury during the icy winters (including many elderly people) who want an indoor location for walking and those working in the offices above who could do a quick appointment just after their workdays.”
Christina Selene (Facebook):
“It would be great if it could somehow become a useful space like a community or arts college, or an extension of UNB. Bringing more people to our uptown which could then support our uptown businesses, and fill all these condos that keep popping up.”
Cheryl Johnson (Facebook):
“Grocery store 100 per cent. I remember living uptown and walking to Sobeys North End because I didn’t drive. The uptown core NEEDS more everyday food options.”
What would YOU want to see happen to Brunswick Square? Join the conversation on our Facebook page.
Some answers were edited for length, grammar.
With files from Danielle McCreadie.