In 2013, Boris Chenkis was feeling “positively” about the Oakridge Centre redevelopment proposal.
His family’s business has operated in the mall for close to 50 years. They first opened La Belle Rose in 1969 — Rose was Chenkis’s mother. After the mall was renovated in 1984, they opened After Five Fashion in the same corridor. Eventually, they amalgamated the two stores under one name — After Five Fashion.
Chenkis saw the prospect of Oakridge Centre’s redevelopment as a way to revitalize the aging mall, improve amenities and increase foot traffic. But as plans move closer to reality — construction on phase one is expected to begin in the fall of 2019 — his family’s half-century history with the location is about to come to a close.
Their lease, which had been extended, runs out at the end of January, and the store has to move out of its space so another mall tenant with a longer-term lease can move into it during construction.
After Five Fashion is heading to Richmond Centre, and Chenkis doesn’t expect to return even after the mall is completed.
He’s disappointed to leave Oakridge Centre because he’d hoped his store would be part of the merchant mix in the new development.
“We’re upset about it. We’ve been here 50 years. It’s like our home. It’s like pensioners who have to move out of an apartment building complex because the place has been bought and they’re going to rip it down and build a highrise,” he said, adding it’s not unusual for longtime customers to come in with their daughters 20 years after they first became clients.
“We see that more and more because we’ve been around so long. We have a connection to our community, our customers, and they have a connection to Oakridge from us being there. It’s something we’re not happy about. We’d love to stay but it’s just a circumstance of development, I guess.”
Years ago, Chenkis said he, and other mall tenants, were encouraged to speak at the rezoning hearing for the 28-acre property by consultants hired by the mall's previous owner — Ivanhoe Cambridge. He was also interviewed by the Courier for a 2013 feature story, in which he voiced support.
City council approved rezoning the property in 2014, but much changed over the next few years.
Redevelopment plans were scaled back after a shallow aquifer was discovered below the mall in 2015 and, in 2017, Ivanhoe Cambridge sold the property to QuadReal Property Group.
QuadReal and Westbank, who are developing partners on the Oakridge project, revealed new plans in late 2017, which included a drop in retail space by about 200,000 square feet. The mall was going to be on two levels, but now the majority of it is one storey, except for the food area and The Bay. The development permit was approved in July.
“Unfortunately, our lease is up and the new owners don’t have the same connection to us as we have to the mall,” Chenkis said.
He believes the vision for the retail component is for high-end shops and national brands with very few independent stores.
“And there aren’t many independents left. We’re the only ones who’ve been there 50 years after Chapman’s left,” he said.
Chenkis was told he could check options out once the redevelopment of the mall is completed but the indication is rents will be high. And rents are already high because Oakridge Centre is the second-highest grossing mall per square foot in Canada, according to Chenkis.
He suspects there might have been room for independent stores had the original vision of the retail portion been realized.
“The initial project was to do two levels. With that extra retail space they could have accommodated some more local presence,” he said. “But now, with a lot of that retail space taken out of the mix, they’ll have limited amount of space and probably because of the demographics of the area, a lot of high-end brands, national brands will want to get in there. That doesn’t allow much opportunity for us local smaller players.”
According to Westbank, early work on the project that supports infrastructure will begin in the next 30 to 45 days. It will lay the foundation for phase one of construction, which begins in the fall of 2019. The developer says it’s working to accommodate tenants through phase one of construction and the “resulting constrained lease space. But the final tenant mix has not yet been determined.”