The Montreal Gazette ran a series of stories on the Cavendish Mall.
Hobbling over to Roy Salomon in the Cavendish Mall, a petite, elderly woman makes a suggestion that drives the smile from his face.
"You should have a store for canes and walkers, that's your clientele," she tells Salomon, a spokesperson for mall owners' Cavendish Shopping Centre Co. Ltd.
Salomon sighs as she walks away.
"That's the type of remark that's a killer for us," he tells a reporter. "We value our seniors. Many are very good customers. But they're just one part of our customer base."
His point is made when a woman with a child and baby walk by -one of a growing number of young families that managers like Salomon, 73, are counting on to revitalize the 37-year-old Cote St. Luc mall.
Over the last two decades, with the exception of several strong stores, retailing has been in decline at the mall, the victim of competition, an aging demographic in Cote St. Luc, the demise of Eaton department stores and the failure of the city to extend Cavendish Blvd.
"Merchants are very sad about the mall," one former retailer said. "In the 1970s the mall was very cool; 25 years later it became your grandfather's mall."
But Salomon and his dozen partners have a plan to bring back the hordes of teens who once flocked to the so-called "shmall" in the 1980s - a time when the now defunct Discus was the place to shop for Bon Jovi cassettes, and when restaurants like Pumpernicks and Cattleman were the places to eat.
About 40 per cent of the 400,000 square foot mall -which once had up to 80 stores -is being demolished and coverted into housing targeting young families. The project is expected to clear regulatory hurdles by July 12.
The scaled-down mall, with about 250,000 square feet of leasable space and 45 stores, will get a new indoor playground.
Plans for the new development, including townhouses, semi-detached homes and the sale of 39 lots for single-family homes, are affixed to the outside of a now empty Canadian Tire store.
Even now, a reporter spotted several strollers, in addition to wheelchairs, during a recent visit.
While nearly one-third of Cote St. Luc residents are aged 65 and older, according to Statistics Canada, the city's median age actually dropped from 51 during the 2001 census to 49 during the 2006 census.
"I see that younger famillies are moving back into Cote St. Luc," said Anthony Housefather, mayor for the city of about 32,000.
"Just last year, we had to find space for a daycare for 70 Cote St. Luc kids.
"I know that the city is different from the way it was 10 years ago."
Back in the 1970s, when the mall was in its infancy, Cote St. Luc was a thriving community filled mostly with young anglophone and allophone families.
Salomon, a Brooklyn, N.Y., native who settled in Montreal, would drive to his Cote St. Luc home with his late brother Richard Salomon and an architect friend, when they passed a large tract of empty land.
"We thought, what a good spot for a mall," Salomon recalled.
Best of all, there was no Carrefour Angrignon at the time, or Decarie Square, so competition for a new mall was limited to downtown and the Rockland Centre.
They formed a partnership with several businessmen and took options on the land, which was divided in parcels with about 10 different owners, including the former grocery chain Steinberg's and Ford Motor Co. They managed to assemble the land, which formed the site for the new mall.
The Cavendish Mall opened in August 1973, substantially leased with stores like Eaton's, Steinberg's, discount general merchandisers Miracle Mart and Warshaw's -the retailer's first store outside the Main.
"The cars were flowing in," recalled Salomon, who spent the opening day directing traffic.
Sales stayed strong throughout the 1980s, with the mall drawing in families and their children from Cote St. Luc, Snowdon and other parts of west-end Montreal.
"Back then it was like a community centre for kids," recalled Yann Toledano, 33, an Internet marketer who used to spend time at the mall while growing up. "The kids would hang out while mom went shopping at Steinberg's."
What hit the shopping centre was a combination of events beginning in the early 1990s. The decade had been marred by economic recession, competition from new malls and the exodus of young anglophones from the West End.
And as Cote St. Luc's population aged, the number of people per household steadily dropped, eroding the area's customer base.
Meanwhile, smaller apparel retailers were being hit with competition from big-box stores and the arrival of cheap imported clothes from Asia.
Gino Scandale, owner of Ralphs Mens Wear -the last store still in existence from opening day -pointed out many of the suits he sold in 1973 are the same price as his current models.
"People in the 1970s and 1980s, they wanted quality," Scandale said.
"People don't want to spend as much on one suit today, because they don't want to be seen in the same clothes. Also, with casual Fridays, people aren't dressing up the way they used to."
But owners, Salomon said, were still committed to the mall's success, investing $7 million in 1992 to renovate the shopping centre, replacing the drab brown decor with skylights and pastels.
Their optimism turned to worry when Eaton's closed its doors in 1998, taking away the mall's anchor tenant.
"That closing was huge," he said. "It affected people, it affected traffic."
They suffered a second blow when Gap Inc. and later Gap Kids closed.
Although management has been criticized for not doing enough to find new tenants, Salomon said he'd met with countless retailers.
"Our main goal was to get someone to replace them (Eaton)," he said.
"We met with Wal-Mart (Canada Corp.), we met with the (Hudson's) Bay (Co.), we met with Simons (Inc.). We used every vehicle at our disposal to get people in here."
Sipping coffee at Bistro Cavendish, Salomon smiles and waves at an old friend, even though the two have had their differences of opinion.
During most of his career, former Cote St. Luc mayor Bernard Lang was staunchly against extending Cavendish Blvd. and making it accessible from Highway 40. Lang feared the extension would create traffic gridlock.
But mall owners said they needed the extension to bring in new customers. Retailers wouldn't sign leases without it.
By 2006, Salomon and his
partners decided the extension wouldn't happen quicklyenough-if ever-andthey needed to make a tough decision over the mall's future. Over takeout, they debated different scenarios in the boardroom of Salomon's nondescript, third-floor offices and came up with the scaled-down version of the shopping centre.
"There's a certain amount of sadness," he said. "We were young guys when we built this mall. But there's a lot of optimism, too."
Since the decision was made, a number of stores were relocated, while others have closed. Several tenants, including the Centre de Sante et des services sociaux Cavendish, are expanding.
The stores that have survived over the years are still there because they have found a niche market, or offer specialized services. At Ralphs, Scandale spends $ 40,000 a year to keep a tailor on site.
Women's fashion store Boutique Delevanti Inc., which opened in the early 1980s, carries hard-to-find, high-end lines.
In fact, Delevanti owner Ruth Ohayon-Haim, 57, is expanding. She recently opened the children's apparel store Bambini to attract families and fill the void left by Gap Kids.
"I built my clientele," she said of the teens who used to visit the mall during the 1980s. "They were 16 then and they still come back today. And now, they can afford my stuff."