Retail Sector Going Strong

More jobs mean more money, which leads to more shopping.

That's why retailers are still interested in Saint John, despite an economic slowdown in the rest of the world, said John Johnston, a provincial director with the International Council of Shopping Centres and a member of the retail forum of the Saint John Board of Trade.

"It will help to make Saint John a drive-in city, instead of a drive-by city," he said.

The energy sector is booming and $19 billion in capital projects are planned or under construction, according to reports prepared for the retail industry.

Looking at employment growth in the province, 47 per cent was created in or around Saint John, housing starts are up 21.6 per cent and retail sales are expected to top $1.4 billion in 2008, which is 32 per cent above the national average, he said.

Site construction for a new Costco is underway at East Point Shopping. The new 18,000-square-foot Indigo opened during the summer. Other new stores include Starbuck's, Montana's Cookhouse and Le Chateau.

New waterfront retail development will also occur in the next 18 months as well as new construction at the Lancaster Mall (Council Group) for an expanded Shoppers Drug Mart store and other major brands, and a new Sobeys and Canadian Tire on Fairville Boulevard.

Retail has a key role to play in making Saint John more of a regional destination, said Johnston, explaining the interest of the Board of Trade.

One thing undermining that trend is the tendency for locals to go to Moncton or Maine to shop, he said. Consumers need to think more about shopping at home in order to support the new retailers coming to the area.

Stores thinking about coming to Saint John look at how existing merchants are doing and like to see growing sales figures.

"So the best things Saint John can do as a community to promote new and better retail is to make that decision to stay home and shop,"he said.

New and exciting retailers are coming to the area, so people won't have to go away to find variety and quality, he said.

"Our economy with the activity we have going on, is really pushing ahead of Moncton, Halifax, Dartmouth and Fredericton," he said.

Retail is also important to the economy as an employer. In Saint John about 10,000 people are employed, making it one of the largest sectors, he said.

It's not all clear sailing to convince retailers to come to the city because the current economic situation means there is a lot of gloom out there. So people seeking new development in the city have to go out armed with the facts and figures to convince business to come, he said.

But there are some national retailers who were planning to establish in Atlantic Canada a few years down the road, but have now decided to come sooner because things don't look so good in areas where manufacturing jobs are drying up and people are having trouble selling their homes, he said.

"The future looks extremely promising here,"he said.

People are picking up on the good things happening here, which is one reason why next year's Atlantic conference of the International Council of Shopping Centres will be held in Saint John, bringing people in from across North America, he said.

Retailers from around the city are working together on the conference, even though they will end up competing for any new businesses that decide to come here.

"We all recognize that the first decision a retailer has to make is whether or not to come to this market," he said. "So it's all about selling this market."

And that's not a hard job, given the friendliness of the people, said Johnston He was speaking to the president of the International Council of Shopping Centres in New York, inviting him to come to New Brunswick.

"He was up here on a cruise ship around the time of 9/11 and he said, ‘ I love Saint John, I couldn't believe how warm and friendly the people were,'" Johnston said. "All these things help sell the Saint John market."

SOURCE: Telegraph Journal -BRUCE BARTLETT