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Mall concept generates mixed reaction from businesses

A shopping mall for Bonnyville would bring more potential retail competitors, but it could also generate something positive for existing businesses, according to some local storeowners.

A shopping mall for Bonnyville would bring more potential retail competitors, but it could also generate something positive for existing businesses, according to some local storeowners.

A potential mall site is identified in the draft East Gate area structure plan released earlier this month.

Envision Ventures, a company founded by four local businessmen, is proposing a 42-acre mall site within its planning area on the southeast side of Highway 28 on the east end of Bonnyville.

"I think it's great," main street business owner Gordon Layh said of the development concept.

"Anything that draws more attention to Bonnyville, that draws more people into Bonnyville, is an asset to Bonnyville," Layh said.

Layh, who owns Step Up Audio Video Unlimited, said he accepts that a mall may bring more local competition for his business. That said, he'd rather compete on service with competitors who could help keep customers in town, rather than ones that might draw them away from Bonnyville.

"I'd like to see some kind of development go there, and whether a mall is part of it or not, that's neither here nor there," Layh said. "We need the development."

New retail development can affect business and customer flow in a variety of ways, according to Mitch Sylvestre, who operates Sylvestre Source for Sports, one of Bonnyville's larger independent retailers with main street exposure.

Sylvestre said he found that out first hand when Walmart opened down the road in Cold Lake.

"When Walmart moved into Cold Lake, my business went up 20 per cent, and it stayed that way and (then) got better," Sylvestre said.

He said the large department store 40 kilometres to the northeast was an instant traffic generator for Cold Lake, but it also started pulling traffic from the east right through Bonnyville. Sales spiked for Sylvestre, who saw customers stopping in that he hadn't seen before.

Of course Walmart wasn't the only factor in play at the time. Increased sales may have also resulted from a stronger economy, and from things the store was doing locally, Sylvestre said.

What was clear, he said, is business didn't decline for his store when a large regional draw hit the market. He noted his sports store has a much different product mix and different service than the retail giant.

Were a mall to feature Canadian Tire and SportChek, for example, things might not yield such a rosy result for his business, Sylvestre said, though he said he certainly wouldn't shy away from competing.

From Sylvestre's point of view — and probably from the point of view of most local business owners — a mall that brought local shoppers options that aren't currently here would be a plus.

"If they were going to put a theatre in there, or something that we don't have that would bring people into town, that's absolutely wonderful," he said.

"For me, it just depends on who is going in there."

One concern for some in Bonnyville is that larger retailers have already clustered in Cold Lake. Canadian Tire is to the east and west of Bonnyville (Cold Lake and St. Paul). Rumours have also been floating for years now that Walmart is on the way to St. Paul, though the retail giant hasn't confirmed those rumours.

Cary Lapointe, president of Envision Ventures, said at an open house to unveil his company's area structure plan that Envision had talked to shopping centre developers in Alberta about its site, but that it hadn't talked to Walmart officials.

Talk of a mall in the East Gate planning area has been slow to filtering back to David Pedersen, the new president of the Bonnyville & District Chamber of Commerce.

Pedersen said he only saw a copy of the plan on Friday, and that the chamber board hadn't taken a position on it, though he expected it would be discussed in the next few weeks. He's said he hasn't heard any reaction to the mall idea from chamber members.