Moose Creek Mall ready to reopen Friday morning after challenging lockdown

Above, Vivian and Michel Theoret and their daughter, Barbara — representing two thirds of the shops inside the Moose Creek Mall.

MOOSE CREEK — It may be one of the smallest indoor shopping malls in Ontario — a “mom and pop” business with all of four stores, each operated by a family member — but the Moose Creek Mall was kept locked down all the same by rules aimed at the likes of the Eaton Centre.

And just like retailers in the big indoor urban malls, those at rural Moose Creek’s version are eager to reopen this Friday morning as the province enters Stage 2 of its economic restart out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vimi Shoes proprietor Michel Theoret says it’s been a tough three months, not made any easier trying to compete with retailers allowed to open a number of weeks ago because they had their own entrances.

“We were really hard hit. I did a little bit of online business,” says Theoret, estimating his sales dropped 85 to 90 percent in the absence of walk-in traffic. He also says he lost what would typically be his best sales period — the month of May.

“We called the ministry a few times, the Ministry of Health, and no way would they do an exemption for us,” says Theoret. The place also serves as the workplace for his immediate family at separate shops — wife Vivian at Juliannah’s Dress & Bridal, daughter Barb Theoret Reynaud at Chez Thérèse Clothing & Gifts, and his brother of Richard’s Mens’ Wear.

“Even Walmart and the big box chains, they were selling shoes and clothing, and our little family mall in Moose Creek couldn’t do it,” he points out, also highlighting the pressure in the shoe sector in particular. “All of my competitors were open. In Cornwall and all these places were open, and I’m sitting here like a duck — I can’t sell nothing.”

In a positive sign, Theoret says his phone has been ringing off the hook today. “People want to come back and shop. A lot of customers have been shopping here over 40 years. They want to come in and try some shoes on because they’ve been waiting for us to open.”

“I think customers will come back slowly, but we’ll get there in time in time,” he adds on a cautious note.

At 15,000 square feet — including two apartments within the building — the Moose Creek Mall would fit inside a standard Walmart several times over. Located in the Township of North Stormont, the place serves as the workplace for a dozen people, proprietors included. Theoret says his father Gerard bought the structure, a former Catholic school, and converted it into the current retail use in 1979.

“We’re going to have a sale event,” he says of Friday’s 10 a.m. opening, noting there’s plenty of inventory and sandals to move from the shelves of the shoe store.

Standard lexan dividers have been installed at the cash registers, hand-washing stations are up and social-distancing rules will be observed.

The mall will close at 4 p.m. on the reopening day.

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