Brickyard to boutiques: Mayfair mall marks 50th birthday this month

Shops showcasing the latest glamorous fashions are sitting atop land once covered with side-by-side brickyards on the north end of the city of Victoria.

Mayfair Shopping Centre is celebrating its half-century birthday this month. When it officially opened on Oct. 16, 1963, 12,000 people poured through in the first three hours.

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Brick and tile production grew during booming construction in Victoria’s early days, providing the building blocks for much of downtown and other areas of the region. But when the brick industry waned, the 23-acre site bordered by Douglas, Finlayson and Blanshard streets and Tolmie Avenue was put to a new use.

Workers pulled down old sheds, warehouses and other structures dedicated to brick manufacturing in 1962 to clear the way for Mayfair as the trend to indoor shopping centres took hold.

Back in the early 1960s, a Daily Colonist editorial praised the idea of a shopping centre on the site, saying it was “evidence of faith in Greater Victoria’s growth and sound future on the part of the developers.”

The centre would also improve the appearance of this property at the gateway to the city, help push forward the planned extension to Blanshard Street and bring in more tax revenue to the city, the newspaper editorial said.

Woodward’s Store was the anchor tenant and featured a supermarket and a department store. Today, the Bay Centre fills the former Woodward’s space.

At Mayfair’s opening ceremony, C.N. Woodward said it had been a goal of his father, W.C. Woodward, to establish a Victoria store on which the family firm would be proud to display its name. “This is a dream fulfilled,” he said.

On its first day, the 1,400-spot parking lot was packed. Cars filled nearby streets for several blocks, said a story in the Daily Colonist.

The arrival of the newest member on the region’s retail scene prompted concerns from other businesses, fearing it would hurt trade in downtown Victoria.

Sound familiar?

It should. A similar debate continues as the new Uptown shopping centre, a few blocks north, replaced the Town and Country mall and continues to draw shoppers away from other retail districts.

In an ironic twist, the Mayfair area was referred to as Uptown in the 1960s.

A 1964 Daily Colonist story was titled Uptown Vs. Down. It was about the new Uptown Merchants Association, formed to promote business in that area, and an expected retail competition.

Major downtown merchants, the Hudson’s Bay Co. and the T. Eaton Co., extended their hours to attract customers.

The history of the site and of Mayfair is now on display inside the shopping centre and special events are planned next week.

Victoria retail trade remains competitive as shopping centres periodically embark on renovation and expansion projects to keep current.

Population growth in the West Shore has spurred development, including the Westshore Town Centre, which has 75 stores and services. The Hillside Centre is going through an

$80-million transformation and, along with the Tillicum Centre, both have attracted Target stores. Tillicum saw $11 million spent to develop the first Target store in the capital region this year.

Centres want to attract popular shops, especially those new to Vancouver Island. Uptown, for example, has Forever 21 and H&M fashion stores. Mayfair tenants include Sephora, Banana Republic and Aritzia.

Success is about constantly evolving and updating to try to deliver what customers are looking for, said Ken Hoang, general manager at Mayfair.

Mayfair is positioning itself as a leader in its fashion selection, he said.

Every day, Hoang said he asks: “How can we do things better? It’s a competitive landscape here.”

Changes are constant in this business. “It is such a dynamic environment that we work in.”

Running a shopping centre is more than filling spaces with tenants, it’s about providing an experience for customers, he said.

Mayfair events have included a roof-top ice rink during the 2010 Winter Olympics, a farmers’ market and drive-in movies.

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