By Craig Patterson
‘The Food District’ food hall at Square One in Mississauga opens to the public on the morning of Thursday, April 4, and it is expected to become an important gathering place for the community. The diverse mix of independent vendors in a 40,000 square foot curated environment creates urban authenticity and will be a significant foot traffic generator for what is already Ontario’s largest and busiest suburban shopping centre.
It’s the second such food hall for landlord Oxford Properties. In the fall of 2018, Canada’s first suburban food hall opened at Upper Canada Mall in Newmarket, north of Toronto, and a third food market concept opens to the public at the Galleries de la Capitale in Quebec City. After the opening of the Newmarket ‘Market & Co.’, representatives at Oxford Properties said that foot traffic and sales were up significantly at Upper Canada Mall generally, and its existing food court also saw spikes in sales.
Square One’s new ‘Food District’ occupies part of a larger retail space that was once a large Target store. Target exited Canada in early 2015 and several other tenants also occupy the two-level space. Uniqlo opened on the second level in November of 2018 and most recently, ‘cultural department store’ Indigo and Cineplex entertainment concept the Rec Room also opened nearby.
That’s on top of an already robust retail offering at the popular Square One. In the summer of 2016, Holt Renfrew opened an impressive 40,000 square foot store in the mall’s new ‘luxury wing’ that features retailers such as Salvatore Ferragamo and Harry Rosen. Anchor Hudson’s Bay is one of the only fully renovated units in the chain, and La Maison Simons operates a two-level store in part of the mall’s former Sears space. Adding to Square One’s diversity is a Walmart store, making Square One the only centre in North America to feature a luxury anchor (Holt Renfrew) and a Walmart in the same mall.
The Food District, itself, is expected to become a gathering place with its own diverse culinary offerings in a space designed to encourage people to shop throughout the space. The architecture includes ample use of wood, with black-and-white tile accents unifying the space with an overall theme. Each vendor designed their own spaces which creates a visual diversity, and the product offerings range widely. The layout encourages walking, with tenants in the central part of the Food District offering access on each side to promote strolling through in whatever direction the consumer may desire.
Some of the offerings are meant to be taken home to cook/eat, while other vendors offer dine-in options for guests. Seating areas near the vendors encourage visitors to sit and socialize, and the interactive nature at some retailers further adds to the entertainment element of the Food District.
At the centre of the Food District is ‘The District Kitchen’, which features an interactive demonstration space that will house cooking classes, dinner parties, corporate and other special events.
"Square One has been a key part of the Mississauga community for over 45 years and the Centre has grown with the city; continuously evolving to provide an innovative destination to explore fashion, food, lifestyle and entertainment," says Square One director and general manager Greg Taylor. "We are thrilled to continue to invest in the area and the prosperity of its residents, while also creating over 250 job opportunities with this addition. The Food District will house gourmet artisans in a space where guests can enjoy and share their food experiences."
When one enters the Food District through the Square One mall entrance, they’re introduced to the ‘District Market’, which its designer, Amal Aflak, described as being a multi-vendor farmer’s market with a twist. A variety of vendors will occupy the space, with some being there temporarily, in order to create an experience where there’s always something new.
“I wanted to create a hub for Mississauga and Toronto,” said Ms. Aflak, “by designing a space that embraces the many cultures that make up the area.” Her design concept is a mix of grass-roots design with a modernist twist, utilizing warm woods with a combination of metal to create an ‘avant garde’ urban experience that might not otherwise be found in a suburban shopping centre.
“I also wanted to design something that was welcoming and appealing, with the independent vendor offerings being a prelude to what can be found in the rest of the Food District”, she said.
Ms. Aflak described how the Food District, as a whole, acts as an incubator for small businesses, many operated by immigrants. “The founders of Sabana Cheese are an amazing success story. They immigrated from Venezuela and are one of the many success stories at the Food District,” she said. Various other businesses in the Food District, be it Drummond Farms’ organic vegetables, delicious OKO Bagels, and other retailers have come together to create a unique culinary experience.
“I will bring guests from out of town to the Food District to experience it for themselves,” said Ms. Aflak. “I expect the Food District to be a draw for those in the area and beyond”.
Cineplex-owned entertainment concept The Rec Room is located across the hall from the Food District, and both could act in harmony to attract visitors to Square One. Visitors can enjoy a meal at the Food District, pick something up for later, and enjoy the entertainment and retail offerings at Square One, which is in the process of becoming part of a ‘complete community’ that will continue to grow as thousands of multi-family residential buildings are added to the immediate area. Given that the city of Mississauga lacks a traditional ‘main street’ downtown core at its heart, Square One is in effect becoming the heart of the city. The adjacent Celebration Square, City Hall, Public Library, Living Arts Centre and other amenities all are draws for the increasingly busy area that will become even more vibrant when consumers embrace the Food District and its offerings.
Last summer we profiled the Food District in an article which discusses some of the other tenants. It’s definitely worth visiting for those in the area, particularly as Square One transforms into a diverse, world-class retail centre.
*Photos in this article are by Tara Noelle
Now located in Toronto, Craig is a retail analyst and consultant at the Retail Council of Canada. He's also the Director of Applied Research at the University of Alberta School of Retailing in Edmonton. He has studied the Canadian retail landscape for the past 25 years and he holds Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Laws Degrees. He is also President & CEO of Vancouver-based Retail Insider Media Ltd. Email Craig: email@example.com