With concerns over the future of the Charlottetown Mall, Juice Co. co-owners Robi and Sharie Hughes didn’t feel comfortable signing on for another five years when their lease expired in October.
Shortly after agreeing to stay on a month-to-month basis, the mall told them to vacate by Dec. 31.
“We just couldn’t renew with all the vacancies in there and not really sure what the future is for that mall. So, it was kind of hard to renew long-term,” explained Robi Hughes.
The couple will continue to operate the Juice Co. that opened in June in the Petro-Canada on University Avenue. As far as a new second location, they have their sights set on downtown and being closer to tourist traffic.
Hughes said a spot along the waterfront or on the lower part of Queen Street would be ideal.
“We just feel that’s where all the growth is happening with tourism and everything else,” he said. “But it’s hard to find a spot down there now.”
He’s hoping to have a downtown location within the next six months.
The couple opened the mall location on Oct. 22, 2007, as a Juice Zone franchise.
Hughes said when it was time to sit down and talk about another lease, the couple dealt with both local mall management and the head office in Toronto.
He said the mall had concerns about recent changes with the business, including that it rebranded from the Juice Zone franchise to the couple taking ownership of the business as the Juice Co.
Hughes suspected that the mall already had another tenant lined up. And, on Thursday, the mall had a display indicating that Booster Juice was opening a franchise.
The mall typically wants a nationally owned company or a franchise as tenants, Hughes said.
“So, we knew it was going to be tough to renew in the fall. And then, when we were talking renewals, they were talking about increasing rates and stuff like that, so we didn’t want to commit to five years,” he said.
He added that the mall didn’t like the fact that Juice Co. opened a second outlet within three kilometres of the mall at the Petro-Canada.
Also in October, the company that owns the mall, RioCan, announced that it was selling off 100 properties across Canada in order to focus on six major cities, including Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. At the time, a spokesperson for the company said the process for selling off assets would be two to three years. The company was not providing details on the fate of individual properties, such as the Charlottetown Mall, since the process was in the early stages.
The spokesperson could not be reached for comment regarding the Juice Co. or for an update on the Charlottetown Mall’s future. On Friday, the mall had 11 retail spaces that appeared to be unoccupied, including Booster Juice’s new space.
Hughes said he noticed that since anchor stores Zellers and then Target left the Charlottetown Mall, mall traffic isn’t what it used to be. When Urban Planet and HMV opened, mall traffic picked up, but not to the point of where it had been before.
“I think that’s a sign of the times. And, you see it happening all across North America. People just aren’t going to shopping malls anymore,” Hughes said.
Even so, he would have been fine to stay at the mall on a month-to-month basis for a while.
For now, the couple is happy with the Petro-Canada location, which has a drive- thru, in-store seating and is located next to the popular Thai Express.
Another advantage of the University Avenue location is the proximity to businesses and UPEI.
“This kind of weather, it’s not great. But once it gets nicer in the spring and the summer and fall, people are out walking around, lots of traffic,” he said.
The business doesn’t get the Saturday afternoon rush of customers that the mall location did, but business throughout the week is steadier.
“So, overall, it’s good. And, the drive-thru is starting to pick up. People with young kids like to zip through there,” he said.
“It’s becoming popular.”