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Here's what's being considered for the Sears spaces in Orchard Park

Orchard Park Shopping Centre took possession of the two vacant Sears stores this week.

For the first time, senior staff did a walk-through to begin an audit. Plenty of research and planning will be necessary to determine how to use the spaces - especially in today's retail climate.

It's a responsibility Donna Markin, general manager of Primaris Orchard Park Shopping Centre, doesn't take lightly.

<who> Photo Credit: KelownaNow </who> Donna Markin is the general manager of Orchard Park.

While senior staff remain tight-lipped about its plans, she acknowledged home fashion and decor, giftware, beauty and entertainment are the top performers — both in Orchard Park and other shopping centres.

“Health-and-beauty is probably the strongest performer in the shopping centre." says Markin. "That includes such stores as Sephora, Sage - jewelry is always a strong category; electronics is always a strong category,” said Markin.

According to Jason Del Vicario, a senior wealth manager for HollisWealth in Vancouver, discount retailers which change inventory frequently, are the top performers in the current retail environment.

“Ross Stores, TJX (Homesense in Canada) and Dollarama are examples,” he said. “People are less likely to go into Ross Store and then go on their iPhone and see if they can get the same product for cheaper online, whereas they are likely to go into a Footlocker, try on a shoe and then try and find it cheaper online,” he said.

<who> Photo Credit: KelownaNow

Still, Markin and senior management staff with H & R Real Estate Investment Trust in Toronto must consider the existing retailers in Orchard Park to balance the services, while guaranteeing sales.

“So we need to ensure we’re not cannibalizing any particular category by making it difficult for another retailer to be successful."

In a changing retail landscape where people are shopping online, Markin has a lot to consider when it comes to the two vacant spaces.

But after 27 years in the retail business, she's not worried.

<who> Photo Credit: KelownaNow </who> Donna Markin is the general manager of Orchard Park.

“In my career - the one thing that is consistent is change.”

But she argues that ordering items and picking them up in a store hasn't changed — not since groceries and milk have been delivered to our door.

In fact, she's confused by the closure of Sears, as they seemed to have the ordering and in-store game figured out.

“It’s a little bit ironic that the retailer best positioned to integrate bricks and mortar and online, does not succeed,” she said.

The closure of Sears remains a question mark for Markin.

<who> Photo Credit: KelownaNow </who> Donna Markin is the general manager of Orchard Park.

“As a lay person watching it, they had everything that is essential to online - they had the distribution which is one of the biggest challenges for everyone selling online. They had the database, so they already had loyal customers and they had a way to advertise to those people outside of just their store. On the surface of it, it seems it should’ve gone on forever.”

But Del Vicario suspects that Sears fell victim to the same problem many retailers face.

“They were slow to realize the impact of the online retail platform. They were slow to adjust to their customers’ needs and specifically the alternatives offered via online shopping. Online shopping is convenient, so you need something to attract customers to one’s store. As noted, deep discounts are one way to get foot traffic into a store.”

One change Markin sees is people are looking for more services and experiences.

“Dentists, getting your hair done and getting your nails done — 27 years ago, those weren't businesses in a shopping centre. You didn't go to a shopping centre to go to a restaurant.”

<who> Photo Credit: KelownaNow

Markin says the redevelopment of the two large spaces will be a hallmark moment in her career.

“I’ve done re-merchandising, but to get to do a redevelopment of this magnitude doesn’t happen for every general manager in their career, so I’m very excited about that.”

Markin hopes to get businesses into the spaces sometime in 2018, adding that she's "not interested in dragging this out indefinitely either. We're in the business of renting space."

The two stores were put on the chopping block after Sears Canada began liquidating closing stores across the country in October 2017.

The two spaces mark the ninth redevelopment since Orchard Park opened 47 years ago.

Orchard Park employs between 700 and 1,000 people.

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