Sudbury, Ont. malls invite small businesses to set up shops in nostalgic spaces

The New Sudbury Center is embracing its past as it re-imagines the future of mall retail, with the coming relaunch of ‘Rue la Ronde.’

Rue la Ronde was an open concept space at the mall during the shopping center’s earlier days as an outdoor-access strip mall. Rue la Ronde had a fountain and bench seating for shoppers to take a break.

Now, the mall is turning a vacant, 17,000-square-foot area into a marketplace for small businesses, and it’s borrowing the name of the old space. The project’s leader says it’s a new take on what’s commonly found in malls.

“You can walk through and maybe find something from, you know, a lot of our local entrepreneurs and makers and small, you know, businesses, trying to get their ideas off the ground,” said Lynne Dotta, New Sudbury Centre’s specialty leasing manager .

The original Rue la Ronde disappeared decades ago when the mall became an indoor shopping centre. Dotta said she wanted to recreate the old feeling of Rue la Ronde, complete with benches and a fountain. It’s slated to open on the weekend of April 14.

Reinvigorating underused space

Dotta said she was walking through the former Sport Check store, now vacant, and the colorful floors and winding layout brought back childhood memories of the original Rue la Ronde.

A wooden wheel against wooden siding with superimposed text reading rue la ronde.
This is the sign that will welcome shoppers into the reinvigorated Rue la Ronde space. (Submitted by Lynne Dotta)

She said the nooks along the walls create natural spots for businesses to set up stands or kiosks, whether they’re there on a temporary or longer-term basis. Dotta said Rue la Ronde was meant for people selling physical goods, such as artisans, but also for some service businesses.

“There are individuals who have been working from home or have an online business and want to do a brick and mortar test,” she said.

Near the entrance of Rue la Ronde, there will be a space for community organizations to promote their services.

The mall already hosts kiosks in its main corridors, but these aren’t suitable for small-business tenants. Dotta said she wanted to make Rue la Ronde as flexible as possible, accommodating anywhere from two to 60 tenants.

“It’s always going to be fluid that way, that there will be some that are, you know, permanent in there month-to-month, and there’ll be others that pop in for a week or pop in for a weekend,” Dotta said.

The space will share the same opening hours as the mall. Vendors in the Rue la Ronde space will face lower fees, compared to the kiosks in the mall’s hallways, and fewer design restrictions. Dotta said she has been encouraging creativity in kiosk designs.

A new take on mall retail

Many small business owners have established themselves as online-focused operations, but Dotta said in-person shopping experiences have become more important. Allowing online businesses to access this clientele may help grow their operations, she said.

Foot traffic at New Sudbury Center is at an all-time high, according to Dotta, which could make more small businesses consider trying a physical space.

“Sometimes going back to simple things that really work,” she said.

Rue la Ronde will also host the Great Outdoor Show for a weekend starting April 21.