Editorial: A Retail Tale

Trent Ernst


By the time this paper hits the stands, spring break will be drawing to a close, and by the time you, yes you dear reader get around to reading this, who knows? They might already be back in school.

But as I write this, spring break is only half over, with a week of action and adventure still laying ahead.

We’ve already celebrated spring break as a family. While some people have taken off for two weeks of exotic beaches and all inclusive resorts, our trip was much more modest.

We went to West Edmonton mall for four days. Or rather, we traveled for two days and spent two days at West Edmonton mall.

The big draw was the Waterpark, but just before we left the youngest got a big-time ear infection (which I wrote about last week) and the wife got a respiratory infection, which put a kibosh on the option of swimming.

So, instead we spent a couple of days exploring the lesser-known attractions of West Edmonton Mall. We did the Sea Lions rock and Sea Life Cavern. We tried out the new Dragon’s Tale mini-golf, which is just like regular mini-golf, but with black lights and glow in the dark balls and scenery. We went upstairs to Ed’s Rec Room and went ten pin bowling and we went to see the Lego Movie.

Oh, yeah, we also did Galaxyland.

It’s probably been about a decade since last I was back at West Edmonton mall, and, while much remains the same, much also has changed. There’s new rides at Galaxyland, new stores and new things to see and do.

There’s also more people who visit the mall in a day than live in all Northern BC.

Seriously. In just one day, up to 200,000 people can walk through the mall’s door. That’s more than the populations of Prince George, Fort St. John and Dawson Creek combined, with enough space to invite everyone from the Northwest along for the ride.

That’s on a good day. Even on a bad day, more people walk through the mall than live this side of Prince George (including Prince George. That’s a lot of people.

And every one of them expecting to spend money. There are over 800 stores under one roof, making it the largest shopping mall in North America. (It used to be in the world, but there are now nine larger elsewhere in the world.)

The mall is so big that it has been a tourist destination almost from the very beginning.

And it got me thinking about retail in Tumbler Ridge.

While there are 90,000 people who visit the mall on a bad day, there is less than five percent of that number living in Tumbler Ridge. Total. Even if the most optimistic population growth estimates come to pass, there probably won’t be more than 10,000 people here by 2030 or so.

Which makes it hard for retail to thrive in Tumbler Ridge.

And, with online shopping becoming more and more popular, and digital goods replacing traditional hard goods (when was the last time you bought music on a CD?), the squeeze is on.

There are certain things you can’t do online. You can’t sit down for a quality virtual meal. You can’t order your groceries online (unless you live in a major urban centre), you can’t have someone virtually come and fix your toilet. But cloths can be bought on line, movies can be rented online. When we needed a new bed, we went to sears.com and a week later, it was delivered to Tumbler Ridge.

Which means that opening a place that sells clothes or furniture or (heaven forbid, CDs or movies) is probably not going to fly here in Tumbler. At least, not using a traditional model.

But that doesn’t mean that retail is dead, just that people who are thinking about opening up shop here in Tumbler Ridge need to do things differently. There are a lot of challenges, but there’s also opportunities for creative individuals to define the face of retail for the future of Tumbler Ridge.