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Downtown Edmonton welcoming 3 new retailers as U of A study finds one-third of street-front stores empty


Although empty storefronts have become more noticeable in Edmonton's core in recent years, attitudes towards downtown's retail future are bullish among at least some businesses and academics.

The Edmonton Downtown Business Association unveiled three of six new businesses moving into retail space in the city's centre on Thursday during its annual Imagining Downtown luncheon. The unveiling came a day after a University of Alberta report examining Edmonton's streetfront retail space found one-third of it vacant and suggested a variety of methods to rejuvenate the core to draw more people to it.

Heather Thomson, the executive director of the Alberta School of Business's Centre for Cities and Communities and an author of the report, said a big part of why there are 496 spaces empty or for lease can be explained by the streamlining brick-and-mortar businesses have gone through.

"Thirty years ago, they may have needed 5,000 square feet and now it’s closer to 1,000 square feet," Thomson told reporters at the luncheon. "We just have too much space. It doesn’t mean the retailers aren’t successful."

The study, titled the Downtown Edmonton Streetfront Retail Report 2023, was put together with funding from the City of Edmonton's Downtown Vibrancy Fund, with the aim of providing updates on streetfront retail health, using insights from research and data to suggest solutions and to support the city's downtown vibrancy strategy by supplying adequate data and information.

"The thing that we want to notice is that, yes, 33 per cent sounds like a lot, but it's such a large space," Thomson said. "We need to remember that when we're comparing it to other cities that we, in a lot of cases, have double the amount of square kilometres — nearly twice the size of Calgary's — when we're measuring this area. The number seems high. With that number [though], that's a lot of opportunities. We have a lot of opportunities to bring in different retailers who need different things. We have a wide variety of options."

It's the promise of opportunity that drew the co-founders of Good Goods, a retailer that sells socially responsible brands from across Canada, to expand from its online presence to a yet-to-be-divulged brick-and-mortar space downtown via grant funding provided by the downtown business association.

"Community betterment has always been one of our core pillars, and a lot of our time is spent in projects that bring enrichment to the communities around us," said Nina Karpoff, co-founder of Good Goods.

"We believe in the downtown community and wanted to be a part of the revitalization of it. There was a lot of really great vision that went into downtown prior to COVID, and we can all see that opportunity still exists. We just need to be a part of that momentum that breathes life back into it."

Provincial government funding to the downtown business association came as a one-time grant for its program dedicated to attracting more retail stores. Under the program, the six new retailers will each receive up to $250,000 to help offset startup costs.

The Growlery, an Edmonton-based brewery, and Obj3cts, a lifestyle concept store by Wild Rose Cakes and furniture retailer Consign Design, are the other two initial recipients.

Puneeta McBryan, executive director of the downtown business association, said the new businesses are tied to downtown for at least 18 months.

"That is a condition of the grant, but all of them are signing three- to five-year leases, so that's a huge win in and of itself," said McBryan, adding 32 businesses applied for the funding.

The three remaining new retailers under the grant program will be announced later this year. Top Stories

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