Atlantic Flavour

Age of extinction
It isn’t easy being a small retailer in downtown Halifax

THE MILLS HALIFAX department store is dead, and for other small retailers operating in downtown Halifax, that fact should not be forgotten.

That’s because when the local business icon closed its doors for good in July after 96 years in business, it was a reminder of how tough it can be for retailers who aren’t part of the multinational chain stores to survive in today’s market place. Ramesh Venkat, a professor of marketing at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, says the demise of Mills Halifax could have been the result of a failed business strategy. But he says it was also the result of some macro factors that small retailers have to overcome in the city.

Retailers operating in Halifax’s downtown core (Mills Halifax was located on Spring Garden Road) have to deal with the fact customers can go to shopping centres like Bayer’s Lake and Dartmouth Crossing that have ample parking and the popular big box stores. “Go back 20 years and Spring Garden Road used to be a really vibrant shopping area,” Venkat says. “But there’s been a gradual decline for retailers downtown.”

Mills Halifax sold products like Chanel and Michael Kors at its location, but Haligonians could get those brands elsewhere, too. “Lululemon has a store almost right next to [Mills Halifax], but it’s the only place to get that brand in Halifax,” Venkat says. “Having some exclusivity gives you some protection from the competition.”

Connecting with customers
When you’re competing against retail Goliaths, small retailers – even ones with established brands like Mills Halifax – have to work extra hard to win over the next generation of customers. “Young customers will sometimes say, ‘That’s my grandfather’s store, I’m not shopping there,’” Venkat says. “You’ve got to continually reinvent yourself to stay relevant to the new customer.”

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