The changing face of shopping in the City’s history

Another Christmas shopping season is now upon us.

Television, radio, newspapers, and the Internet are full of advertisements for ‘great gift ideas’ and holiday shopping opportunities. For many merchants, the upcoming weeks will be the difference between a profitable year and a discouraging one.

Shopping for Christmas gifts and treats has been major part of community life since Red Deer’s earliest years. The small pioneer stores in the town would put special displays and Christmas sales signs in their windows.

One of the biggest changes in retail came in 1928 when the Timothy Eaton Company bought out W.E. Lord’s business and established Red Deer’s first chain department store. One could find a wide range of goods on offer. Moreover, all of the foods for Christmas feasts could be purchased in the groceteria.

For those unable to find what they wanted in the store, there was an excellent catalogue office where items could be shipped in from the central warehouse in Winnipeg. If the customer was unhappy with what they got, there was a full money-back guarantee.

Eaton’s helped to secure Red Deer’s place as the retail hub for Central Alberta. During the 1930s, it also started the tradition of bringing in Santa Claus to gather gift ideas and help with sales. In 1939, Eaton’s was doing so well that a large new store replaced the old one on Gaetz Avenue.

Red Deer began to grow very rapidly after the Second World War. New chain stores such as Woolworth’s, Kresge’s, Macleod’s, Saan, Merit and Metropolitan opened in the downtown area.

In the early 1960s, one of Red Deer’s first shopping malls, the Plaza, opened on the east end of Ross Street. The Co-op served as the anchor tenant.

In 1961, the Hudson’s Bay Company opened a large three-level outlet on the corner of 49 St. and 49 Ave.

This latter store had the added attraction of being home to Red Deer’s first escalator.

In November 1970, Red Deer’s first indoor shopping mall, the Parkland Mall, opened on the brow of the North Hill. This complex initially contained more than 40 indoor stores and services. Woolco, Safeway and Super City Drugs were the first anchor tenants. Another major attraction was the huge parking lot with spaces for more than 1,400 vehicles.

Parkland Mall was an enormous success. Despite the fact that Central Alberta was mired in a recession at the time, after the new mall opened, retail sales in the community leapt 10% for more than $100 million.

Red Deer’s position as the preeminent retail centre of Central Alberta became even stronger.

However, the opening of the indoor mall put pressure on Red Deer’s downtown. The challenges to the traditional retail centre became even greater when the Parkland Mall doubled in size in 1978.

In 1981, a new, even larger shopping centre, Bower Place, opened on the South Hill. The complex covered 430,000 sq. ft. and boasted more than 90 store and services. Another blow to the downtown came when Eaton’s decided to relocate to the Bower Mall, joining Woodward’s as an anchor tenant at the new shopping centre.

A large number of other major stores decided to either close their downtown Red Deer outlets, or else relocate to one of the malls.

However, the malls also faced challenges. In 1993, Woodward’s went bankrupt and its location at Bower Place was taken over by The Bay. In 1995, Zeller’s moved out of the old Eaton’s store downtown and moved into new premises at Bower Place.

Meanwhile, the whole retail sector in Red Deer faced major new competition when Walmart took over the old Woolco store in the Parkland Mall in 1994.

The chain later built a second large outlet in south Red Deer.

The retail business in Red Deer continues to change significantly. Stores such as Zellers and Target have closed. Sears has relocated from one mall to another. New big box retailers and ‘shopping commons’ have been built, particularly on the south side of the City.

Nevertheless, all stores and services are hoping for a good 2015 Christmas season, particularly in face of the general decline in the Alberta economy.