J.P. Kirby's Commentary

User submitted April 28, 2007

Brookside Mall is located in the Nashwaaksis neighbourhood on the northside of Fredericton, New Brunswick. It was one of the dozens of small community malls that sprouted up across Canada in the late 70s and early 80s to serve the needs of the local population.

The mall, which opened in 1980, was located to provide easy access to the Westmorland Street Bridge and accompanying Ring Road (Route 105), which were completed in 1982. The idea was, apparently, to get traffic to cross the bridge from the south side as well as serve the locals on the north side.

Until the highway opened, Brookside Mall though was located on what was in effect a semi-minor rural road. Nashwaaksis, which has seen near-continuous suburban development since the 1950s, had yet to develop that far up, so it was almost as much an inconvenience for the locals to shop there as it was for southsiders. So not only did the southsiders continue to shop on the larger retail strip centred around Prospect Street (with Regent Mall and Fredericton Mall), most of the northsiders did as well, particuarly those in other neighbourhoods like Marysville and Barkers Point which had a better highway connection to the southside malls than they did to Brookside.

The mall was very small when it first opened, simply a small strip of 15-20 stores which connected two anchors. The anchors were K-Mart and a Dominion grocery store. The New Brunswick Liquor Commission (NBLC) also had a store in the back, accessed at the time by a long hallway from K-Mart.

Very few national chains found their way to Brookside in the early years. Almost all the tenants were local or regional businesses and restaurants. It was almost fully occupied, however.

In 1990, Regent Mall across town tripled in size to become the city's dominant shopping centre. Brookside Mall, fearing a loss of their already small customer base, decided to do the same thing. New to the mall was Zellers, another discount department store (the largest one in the country til Wal-Mart came along). Also new were a lot of the same chains found across the river: Coles, Reitmans, Radio Shack, Charm Diamond Centres, Northern Reflections, Suzy Shier, BiWay, Work World.

A food court came along too, with 4 restaurants: Manchu Wok, Pizza Delight, local favourite Frank's Fish and Chips, and Gerry's Diner (which had moved over from the southside). Only Gerry's lasted longer than 5 years. Two restaurant spots were never filled: one became a playplace for a while, and the other became a newsstand.

The expansion consisted of two wings, one from each of the existing anchors (including Sobeys, which replaced Dominion in 1988) to Zellers; and opened in the fall of 1991.

Many of the national inline chains were gone almost as quickly as they came. BiWay was one of the first to close up, as I recall. Work World went pretty quickly as well. Their former space was actually used as a polling booth in three consecutive provincial elections.

K-Mart Canada was absorbed by Zellers in 1998, and they said as many K-Marts as possible would be turned into Zellers stores. Of course, there was already a Zellers in the mall! So much for that. The loss of K-Mart provided Sobeys an opportunity to move into a larger location, which they did in 1999.

This of course left a vacancy on the other side of the mall. It was filled by Rossy, a very low-end department store chain (think Woolworth's) that is usually only found in small towns.

Then came the invasion of the call centre. You can tell that a mall in New Brunswick is dead if one opens up. The Zellers-Rossy wing and food court were converted into a Cendant call centre in 2001. They grew large enough that they eventually took over a few other stores in the Zellers-Sobeys wing, as well as the corridor leading back to the NBLC (which has managed to stay through this mess, although now with only an outside entrance). This created a large concrete wall, which was *painted* with murals of Victorian-era storefronts. There's now a running joke in the city that there are more fake stores at Brookside than real ones.

Meanwhile, one-by-one, Brookside Mall keeps emptying out further. Reitmans, a staple of every mall worth its salt in Canada, closed in 2004. The locals are even going. Three different dollar stores have come and gone. Sears opened up a furniture/appliance outlet near Rossy in 2005, which has at least solved a small part of the vacancy problem. Jeans Experts, another staple of small-city malls in Atlantic Canada, is now pulling out. Sobeys still does well, but the rest of the mall, including Zellers, is suffering greatly.

Gerry's (the definition of a greasy spoon) and a local Chinese restaurant have inline locations now, but neither have exactly a stellar reputation. A couple eccentric stores stick around, such as Card Rack (think Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons, only with sports and Pokemon cards) and some store whose name I can't recall that sells postcards, flags and motorbike gear. A couple of weeks ago I saw a couple of guys from the Knights of Columbus trying to sell raffle tickets near the mall's main entrance. I wonder if they sold one all day.

There was some faint hope by the managers of the mall (Toronto-based RioCan) that the opening of the northside's first Wal-Mart about a mile away in March 2007 would help business by drawing more traffic to the area. In the two months since then, it looks to have only hurt.

Although the Brookside Drive corridor has finally seen some large-scale residential development in the past few years, the mall has not seen any more success. Is it only a matter of time before they give up the ghost and decide to develop it into something else? They haven't said anything, but they may have to at some point.

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