RioCan helps shoppers take care of each other

The shopping centre owner wants visitors to be more community-minded and help it avoid another shutdown.

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RioCan is helping customers feel safer about coming to its shopping centres – and are taking measures that could prevent it from closing down again – by giving away masks in a way that encourages people to think of each other.

An interactive installation, located between a subway station and an entrance to RioCan’s Yonge Sheppard Centre in North York, uses 352 disposable face masks to create a wall, offering those without masks one to put on before entering the shopping mall. Once all the masks are pulled off the wall, the more individualistic “Take Care” message is revealed to actually be a more community-minded “Take Care Of Each Other.” The wall of masks will be replenished as more are needed.

“Masks aren’t just mandatory so [guests] can get into the shopping centre, wearing a mask is an important function in keeping our community safe and taking care of each other,” says Terri Andrianopoulos, VP of marketing and communications at RioCan REIT. “We wanted to not just tell people to wear a mask, we wanted to make it easier for them to wear a mask and make an otherwise very stressful moment a little more fun.”

Creating a sense of connection and care is important to RioCan, Andrianopoulos notes, because the brand wants to reinforce that its shopping centres as being “community hubs,” where people see their neighbours and get the essentials and other products they need. In the pandemic, it has tried to build on that by setting up food bank donation drop-offs in its shopping centres, as well as playing host to socially-distanced community events, like farmer’s markets, cook-offs and performances by local musicians. This weekend, one of its shopping centres in Toronto is hosting a pop-up featuring local artist Nadia Lloyd, who has designed face masks inspired by the city, 1,000 of which being donated to a local school.

While creating an environment people feel safe shopping in is an important goal of the activation, Andrianopoulos acknowledges that part of the strategy is for the brand to play its part in curbing the spread of the virus – and avoid another lockdown that would force RioCan tenants to close their doors again.

“Would I say that the overarching objective was to ensure that people can keep going shopping and that there’s not another lockdown that would impact the shopping centres? I would say that it was actually a much higher order,” Andrianopoulos says. “We understand that running a business isn’t just about collecting rent. We know that there needs to be an emotional connection to our properties and that we need to create atmospheres where people feel safe and comfortable.”

RioCan appeared to be well-positioned to weather the COVID-19 storm, as enclosed malls represent less than 10% of the brand’s portfolio, with the rest made up of grocery-anchored centres, mixed-use properties and open-air malls.

However, two-thirds of its tenants had to shut their doors at the height of the pandemic, either of their own volition or to comply with government mandates, contributing to a $350.3 million loss in its most recent quarter. However, it was able to collect 73.3% of its rents on average, a number RioCan CEO Ed Sonshine projected would be around 90% for July and August.

RioCan also expected to receive $9.9 million through the federal government’s Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program, which allowed landlords to apply for rent relief on behalf of tenants. Small business owners criticized the program, which had low uptake as many landlords chose not to apply. Sonshine said the program was “painful” to apply for, partially because very few of its tenants actually qualified.

No Fixed Address created the installation, which RioCan is amplifying through its owned channels.

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