Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Geography & Environmental Studies


Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Brent Hall

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


In recent decades, central business districts in many cities in Canada have undergone considerable change with respect to many aspects of their function and importance. A number of factors have been responsible for these changes, notably the migration of populations to the suburbs. The changes in the CBD have resulted in a deterioration of the core areas of almost every major city and a great many smaller communities in the country. In response to this deterioration numerous downtown renewal schemes have been implemented with varying degrees of success. A growing number of these schemes has involved the development of downtown shopping malls. Though these developments are advocated by some, others warn against such undertakings and question the extent to which merchants outside the mall on the surrounding streets benefit. Further, studies have been undertaken that indicate that within shopping malls, benefits accrue to the large department stores and multi-branch chains at the expense of local independent merchants. This tendency to perpetuate discriminatory relationships between the national chain stores and local independents has resulted in chain store dominance in most shopping centres. This thesis advances a framework for a descriptive model of change in retail activities in response to the development of a downtown shopping centre. Inferred from this model are three hypotheses. First, it is hypothesized that over time there has been a decline in the absolute number of retail enterprises within the CBD. Second, it is suggested that little or no net gain results from the construction of the mall as growth within the mall occurs at the expense of merchants on the surrounding streets. Third, it is hypothesized that there has been a shift away from the dominance of locally-owned enterprises toward the dominance of national multi-branch stores and that the development of a downtown mall accelerates this trend. These hypotheses are tested in a case study of Thunder Bay, Ontario, through an examination of retail change in the city, as a whole, and specifically the entry and exit of retail establishments in the CBD. Surprisingly, all three hypotheses are found to be false. The data suggest that the development of the Keskus Mall has helped in arresting the decline in the number of retail establishments and growth in the number of establishments has occurred in recent years. Further, it is noted that, although the mall development resulted in the injection of a number of chain stores into the area, locally owned stores continue to represent the majority and have in fact increased in number since the mall’s construction. Some reasons for these findings are based on interviews with local businessmen. It is widely held that the mall has resulted in a dramatic increase in the level of consumer activity in the downtown. It is further felt that this activity is not confined to the mall but rather has increased in the stores on the surrounding streets. It appears that the Keskus mall is well integrated with the existing retail environment, drawing consumers to the downtown and facilitating pedestrian movement on the traditional shopping streets. Finally it has been found that the relative advantages held by the chain stores and large department stores are not as great as originally expected. It is concluded, based upon the investigation of Thunder Bay’s experience, that downtown shopping mall developments may, indeed, offer an appropriate means of core area revitalization if carefully planned to meet the needs of the existing retail environment.

Convocation Year


Convocation Season


Included in

Urban Studies Commons