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Willow West Mall makeover includes a new anchor store

The Willow West Mall will be receiving a makeover along with a new anchor tenant –Leon’s Furniture Ltd.

The home furnishing retailer plans to open a 76,000-sq.-ft. superstore in the Silvercreek Parkway shopping centre, replacing the Zellers store, which is closing next month.

“Guelph is a great market,” Leon’s president and CEO Terry Leon said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “We’ve always had customers in Guelph who shop at our other area stores. I think we’ve been remiss in not being there sooner.”

But Guelph customers will have to wait a while longer before they can shop at Leon’s in their hometown. The new store is projected to open about a year down the road in the summer of 2011, said Leon.

In the meantime, “there’s going to be extensive renovations to the property,” he said.

These renovations will create a new look both inside and outside the mall, he said.

The mall’s property manager, Angelo Di Palma, confirmed that there are some significant changes planned for the site.

“We haven’t landed on a final layout of what the shopping centre will look like,” he said. This is partly because the mall’s property management company, Bentall LP, is still attempting to negotiate with other potential tenants, he said.

Di Palma would not name any of the possible tenants, but mentioned hopes that a national pet food retailer would occupy 15,000 square feet or more of the new mall. Construction on a new look for the mall is slated to begin this summer to correspond to the makeover that will be required for the Leon’s store.

“During that time, we hope to complete a number of other lease deals,” said Di Palma.

The majority of the existing tenants, including north-end anchor No Frills, will still be a part of the new mall, but the current enclosed mall will be done away with, he said.

“What’s there today doesn’t functionally work all that well . . . so we’ve opted to go in a new direction,” said Di Palma.

The mall will continue to be open to shoppers throughout the next year’s construction, even as significant changes are taking place.

“We’re going to do our best to minimize any inconvenience or disruption to the shopping centre,” said Di Palma.

He also noted that there would be little change to the south-end stores, including the Short Stop and Brewer’s Retail.

Securing Leon’s as an anchor tenant is a positive step toward revitalizing the mall, said Di Palma. It is also a win-win for the furniture retailer and the people of Guelph, he said.

In addition to benefits for Guelph shoppers, there will also be employment opportunities. The retailer expects to hire 40 to 50 people before its 2011 opening date, said Leon.

“We think it’s exciting,” said Leon. “We’ve been around for over 100 years, and we hope we’ll be in Guelph for many years to come.”

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