Plaza Pointe-Claire, known simply as “The Shops” to generations of West Islanders, is up for sale.
What the future holds for one of the oldest shopping malls in Quebec remains to be seen, but Dan Scheunert said the time has come for his 92-year-old father Kurt Scheunert, the plaza’s co-owner, to sell the iconic mall that opened in 1958 as the heralded Pointe-Claire Shopping Centre on St-Jean Blvd., near Highway 20.
“It’s very emotional,” said Dan Scheunert. “This has been our family business for 45 years.”
He said the day-to-day operations of a mall with 80-odd commercial tenants has become too much for his elderly father to handle.
“When you’re 92, it’s not easy. My father works seven days a week, 10 hours a day. It’s quite incredible actually,” he said.
“ But my dad has realized he can’t handle it anymore. There is a need for some TLC around here and it’s just too difficult for him to attend to,”
“But my dad has realized he can’t handle it anymore. There is a need for some TLC around here and it’s just too difficult for him to attend to,” said Scheunert, who grew up in Pointe-Claire but now lives in Ottawa.
His brother Stephen Scheunert used to operate the garden centre at the plaza, but it closed years ago due to increasing competition from big-box stores.
Dan Scheunert remembers eating fries at the mall’s Woolworth’s store in the 1970s when he attended classes at nearby John Rennie High School.
While the mall has undergone many structural changes and renovations over the decades, some of the original tenants — Topaze restaurant, Ted’s Hobby Shop and Swiss Vienna Pastry — still remain.
“It’s changed, but yet it hasn’t,” said Scheunert. “It’s a throwback. It’s a place with 80 tenants but they’re all small tenants — except for Metro. This kind of mom-and-pop plaza doesn’t exist anymore, but it does here.
“A lot of people have a strong affinity to the mall. That’s what makes this decision all the more difficult for my dad and his partner (Lyliane Johnstone).”
Lyliane Johnstone is the widow of Bert Johnstone, who bought the mall with partner Kurt Scheunert in the late 1970s.
Scheunert said the mall has survived because of its personal approach to shoppers and retailers. “We’ve kept rents low and we’ve worked with our tenants when they hit rough patches.”
Now, though, the plaza must evolve to face the challenges of 21st century retail, he said.
“It’s not sustainable in that (old plaza) model anymore. I think it’s going to end up being some form of mixed-use. It will remain commercial, but any buyer is going to try and densify the site so there will be some apartments or condos.
“But it’s not going to happen quickly. It will take a while, so the message I would love to send is while, yes, this place is for sale, it’s probably going to be many, many years before it changes and hopefully will change for the better by keeping the spirit of what it is, but modernizing it.”
Peter Grant, owner of Ted’s Hobby Shop , is taking a wait-and-see approach to the mall’s future. But he expects some sort of building transformation leading to greater foot traffic in the enclosed mall that is a popular spot for local seniors.
“I kind of think it’s inevitable,” Grant said. “That’s just how retail is today. We need people in the stores.”
Grant said his store has fared well during the COVID-19 pandemic because it caters to the “anything you can do at home” market. Plastic models, board games and puzzles are hot sellers.
But parts of the mall remain empty, like the Calistoga Bar location that closed its doors in 2019 .
Finding new commercial tenants in today’s depressed market is not an easy task, noted Scheunert. “Now with the pandemic you can be sure there are no restaurants banging on our door. It’s tough.”
Interestingly, the city of Pointe-Claire took the unusual step of issuing a statement Sept. 23 to reiterate that the mall and its land are “located in a zone that only allows for a shopping centre and facilities intended for this purpose.
“Anyone acquiring the land and building will therefore be required to comply with the zoning criteria, which stipulate that the building must be a detached structure no more than three storeys high,” the city noted.
Scheunert doubts the status quo will remain.
“It will be rezoned, personally, from what I understand, but I’m not a developer. It’s in a prime transportation zone. The city of Montreal supports that type of densification. If it’s going to remain viable, it needs traffic and a place for people to live.
“If they want it to look like it is forever, that’s wonderland, I think.”