Marking Parkland Mall’s 40th anniversary in the City

Michael Dawe

Forty years ago, in November 1970, Red Deer’s Parkland Mall opened on the brow of the North Hill. It was Red Deer’s first indoor shopping mall. The opening also profoundly changed the retail sector in Red Deer and across Central Alberta.

The year 1970 had generally been a poor one for Red Deer. The economy had gone into a significant slump. The agricultural sector was hit hard by such things as a rapid decline in the price of wheat. The local oil and gas industry also fell into the economic doldrums.

Unemployment rates shot up. The annual value of building permits plunged between 40% and 50%. The official population of Red Deer dropped for the first time in nearly 50 years, albeit only from 26,924 to 26,907.

Despite the challenging economic climate, the A.D. Gelmon Corporation announced the construction of a large indoor mall on Red Deer’s North Hill. Its $4.5 million cost was only slightly less than the total of all the other building permits issued by the City.

The new mall was to contain more than 40 indoor stores and services, with Woolco, Safeway and Super City Drugs as the anchor tenants. At a time when parking was an on-going problem in the traditional shopping areas, the new mall was to have parking spaces for an impressive 1,400 cars.

Parkland Mall was an immediate success. The managers estimated that 25,000 people turned out for the official opening on Nov. 3, 1970. That was probably somewhat of an exaggeration as that would have been only slightly less than the entire population of Red Deer. Nevertheless, the merchants reported literally thousands of opening day sales.

The new mall also had an impact on municipal retail regulation. For many years, Red Deer had a shopping bylaw under which stores were open late on Thursday evening, but closed every Wednesday afternoon. The Parkland Mall put pressure on the City to rescind the bylaw and bring in much freer shopping hours.

The plebiscite on the shopping bylaw was held the day after the mall officially opened and 64% of the voters cast ballots to scrap the early closing bylaw. Stores were soon open Thursday and Friday nights as well as Wednesday afternoons. Some tried Saturday night openings, but dropped them because of relatively low customer traffic.

The Parkland Mall had a major impact on retail sales in Red Deer. Despite the recession, the estimated value of sales jumped at least 10% to more than $100 million. Red Deer had become the preeminent retail and commercial centre of Central Alberta.

Over the next decade, the Parkland Mall grew and prospered. In 1978, the mall doubled in size with Sears being added as additional anchor tenant. The following years saw even more changes. A small sub-mall on the edge of the hill was demolished.

The grove of spruce trees in the parking lot was removed and a restaurant building was added on the west side of the lot. In 1994, Walmart took over the large Woolco store.

For a few years, new owners tried a rebranding of the shopping centre as the Red Deer Centre Mall. However, people quite liked the Parkland name and thought of the mall as being on the north side, not in ‘the centre” of the community.

Consequently, in 2005, Morguard Investments, the mall managers, changed the name back to Parkland Mall. The symbolic metallic “wheat sheaves” above the entrances were removed. The whole complex was given a major refurbishment and improvement.

Alterations have continued over the past couple of years with the departure of Sears and the addition of several new businesses. Today, Parkland Mall boasts more than 100 stores and services and remains a key regional shopping centre, not only for the City of Red Deer, but also for Central Alberta as a whole.

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