Jeff Lowry's Commentary:

Posted March 21, 2005 (user submitted)

Galleria London is a 2-story mall that opened in downtown London, Ontario (population 350,000) in 1989. At the time, London was going through a retail boom, with major expansions at two suburban malls (Westmount and White Oaks) and the construction of a large mall (Masonville) in the north end of the city a few years earlier. Galleria was built on the site of Wellington Square, a small shopping centre that dated from the 60's. The new mall incorporated the existing Eaton's store and added an outlet of The Bay, a major Canadian department store, which moved from another downtown location.

Architecturally the mall was (is) quite impressive, with marble and vaulted skylights throughout. It was quite upscale for London, containing stores like Ralph Lauren and Harry Rosen, as well as London's first Gap and Eddie Bauer, and a six-screen theatre. Unfortunately, it ran into problems within a couple of years. The economy went south in the early 90's, causing a number of the high-end stores to close. The design was a problem as well. The mall was built over two city blocks, and the two sections of the first floor were cut off from each other. The upper floor had a 'racetrack' design, but all of the traffic going from Eaton's to The Bay went across the eastern walkway. The western walkway was pretty much dead within a few years. Furthermore, the mall had a fortress look to it, there were no windows or shops facing the surrounding streets downtown.

After a rocky start, the mall stabilized in the mid-90's as the economy came back. It was still a decent destination for my friends and me in high school. There was a new food court built on the second floor, and shops began moving back in. Problems began again in the late 90s when the troubled Eaton's chain started closing stores. The Galleria outlet survived the first round of closings in 1997 but was reduced to half its former size. Eaton's was never able to recover and the chain went out of business for good in 1999.

After that it was a quick slide downhill. Gap and Eddie Bauer had outlets in the suburban malls by that time so didn't need the downtown locations. The Bay moved to the former Eaton's space in the busy Masonville Place in 2000, and the chain stores began leaving in droves. The theatre closed in 2001, though it was later replaced with a second-run theatre. The mall owners have tried creative methods to fill the space, such as opening a call centre in the former Eaton's, while the city renovated the former Bay store to be the new location of the public library. I haven't been to the mall in a few years, but judging from the website it looks like there are about 50 stores left (down from 180 or so originally), most of them locally owned. It's a shame as this was by far the nicest mall in southwestern Ontario when it opened. London just wasn't big enough to support four malls. The three suburban malls are still thriving though.

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