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The emergence of new format retailing into the commercial structure of Cambridge, Ontario: A GIS-based visualisation *.

C.D. STORIE, C. OAKLEY and R. MUNCASTER: "The Emergence of New Format Retailing into the Commercial Structure of Cambridge, Ontario: A GIS-Based Visualisation". The geography of retail space in Canadian cities is in a constant state of flux. Over the last ten years there have been dramatic changes in the formats of retailing as the retail industry has acted on opportunities presented by the rapid levels of urban growth. Cambridge, Ontario, Canada, is a rapidly growing city of 100 000 people, with a unique and interesting retailing landscape. Cambridge is following the trend towards big-box retail development, and suburban retail growth. Currently having one major central business district, and two smaller ones (a result of amalgamation during the creation of the Region of Waterloo), the cores have experienced decline over the ten-year study period. As in other places, consumers shifted their shopping from core to suburban shopping opportunities. More recently, newer developments have been focussed along the H espeler Road (Highway 24) retail strip, including the currently evolving Pinebush Rd./Hespeler Rd. Power Centre, further fuelling the decline experienced in the core areas. A GIS-based visualization of the data gathered from Vernon's Street Directories for 1989 and 1999 provides details of the changing types of retailing in the study areas. Overall, retailing in Cambridge is growing rapidly, but only within key areas.

C.D. STORIE, C. OAKLEY and R. MUNCASTER: [much less than] The Emergence of New Format Retailing into the Commercial Structure of Cambridge, Ontario: A GIS-Based Visualisation [much greater than] [L'emergence d'un secteur de detail 'nouveau format' au sein de la structure commerciale de Cambridge, Ontario: Une visualisation a base de SIG]. La geographie de l'espace de detail dans les villes canadiennes connait des transformations constantes. Au cours des dix dernieres annees, ii y a eu des changements remarquables dans les formats de la vente au detail au fur et mesure que l'industrie de detail a repondu aux opportunities presentees par les taux de croissance urbaine rapide. Cambridge, Ontario, Canada, est une ville de 100.000 habitants qui connait tine croissance rapide et qui possede un profil du secteur de detail qui est unique et interessant. Cambridge suit la tendance caracterisee par le developpment de la vente au detail 'grand format'et par la croissance suburbaine du secteur. Presentement, Ia ville pos sede un district commercial central principal et deux centres plus petits (le resultat d'une fusion municipale lors de la creation de La Region de Waterloo), mais ces noyaux ont connu un declin au cours de dix annees de l'etude. Comme dans d'autres regions, les consommateurs ont reoriente leurs achats des noyaux commerciaux aux opportunities presentes par des centres suburbains. Dernierement, des developpements plus recents ont vu le jour le long du ruban commercial de Ia rue Hespeler (Ia route 24), y compris le Power Centre au croisement de Pinebush et de Hespeler, en plaine evolution, ce qui accentue le declin deja present dans les noyaux centraux. Une visualization par un SIG des donnees cueillies des Vernon's Street Directories de 1989 et de 1999 demontrent les details de Ia composition changeante du secteur de detail dans les zones d'etudes. Globaleinent, le secteur de detail Cambridge connait une croissance rapide, mais cette croissance est limitee a certaines zones cle.


The geography of retailing in Canada has experienced considerable change during the past twenty years. As the population of the country has become increasingly concentrated into the main urban areas (Bourne 1996) and as the automobile has become the dominate mode of transportation for shopping trips, the structure of retailing has been altered in significant ways. Retail shopping destinations have become increasingly dispersed throughout the urban areas as improved highway and street systems provide sites with better automobile access for large numbers of suburban residents. As a result, there have been significant changes not only to the locations of retailers but also to the formats of the major retailers, particularly in those areas of the country experiencing rapid population and economic growth.

One of the fastest growing regions of Canada over the past twenty years has been the area in Southwestern Ontario called the "Technology Triangle". This triangle has Guelph, Cambridge and Kitchener/Waterloo at the vertices. In this paper, the changes that have taken place to the commercial structure of one of these vertices, Cambridge, between 1989 and 1999, are described with an emphasis on the emergence of new-format retailers. The study is part of a larger study concerning the changing commercial structure of the municipality of the Region of Waterloo containing the cities of Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge (Muncaster 1998, 1999). Being one of the most dynamic regions in the country, the Region has, in recent years, been affected by most of the new types of commercial developments that have evolved in Canada.

The primary reason for the rapid growth of Cambridge is its location. Cambridge is located on Canada's "Main Street" (Yeates 1975), Highway 401, which runs from Quebec City to Windsor and hence, provides Cambridge with easy access to Toronto and to border crossings at Detroit and Buffalo (Figure la). In the current "Just in Time" manufacturing era, Cambridge has a strategic location not only for the manufacturing of automobiles but it has also been a primary participant in the attraction and development of the science and technology companies which have made the Technology Triangle famous. Between 1986 and 1996, the economy of Cambridge grew by 44 % or twice as fast as the Ontario economy. During the same time period, the rate of employment also doubled. Since 1992, the rate of employment growth in Cambridge has been the most rapid in the Waterloo Region (City of Cambridge 2000). Numerous international companies have established major operations in Cambridge. Amongst the companies which have made a significan t contribution to growth are Toyota of Canada, Rockwell Automation Canada, ATS Automation Tooling Systems and Babcock & Wilcox Canada, which all had 1000 or more employees in 1999 (City of Cambridge 2000).

The outstanding economic growth of Cambridge has created an attractive market for many of the more aggressive retailers that operate in Canada. As a result, there have been dynamic changes to the commercial structure of Cambridge.


By the mid 1960s, the City of Kitchener and the other major municipalities (Waterloo, Galt, Preston and Hespeler) in the County of Waterloo had evolved into a rapidly growing urban area. There were two primary factors underlying this rapid growth. First, in the early 1960s, Highway 401 was completed between Toronto and Windsor thus providing south Kitchener and the southern portion of the County with easy access to Toronto and Detroit. Prior to the construction of Highway 401, the County had east-west highway transit via Highway 7 through Kitchener and north-south via Highway 8 to Hamilton. Thus, the new Highway 401 greatly improved the County's position in the transportation network of the Province. Second, the two universities in Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo, attracted numerous new companies to the area. In particular, the science and engineering programmes at the University of Waterloo attracted many high technology companies to newly developing industrial parks in no rth Waterloo.

As a result of the rapid urbanisation of the area, the Ontario Government decided to create a regional municipality to provide a "more efficient municipal structure". In 1973, the Region of Waterloo was created with three cities and the surrounding urbanising area (Figure 1b). The cities were Kitchener, Waterloo and a new city called Cambridge. Three municipalities -- Gait, Preston and Hespeler -- were united with the surrounding urbanised area to create Cambridge. Each of these communities had their origins as mill towns on the Speed or Grand Rivers. Each had developed a commercial core to serve the community with their industrial employment-based populations and consumers in the surrounding agricultural area. By the late 1960s, these communities were merging together into a rapidly growing urban area, particularly in those sectors having easy access to Highway 401.

By 1966, the largest of the communities, Galt, had a population of 33,491 and contained 266 retail stores; Preston had a population of 13,380 and 95 retail stores, while Hespeler had just 5,381 residents and 44 stores. The commercial structure of the region had begun to disperse outward in the 1 950s with the early development of neighbourhood and community level shopping centres in the new suburbs. The central cores of the municipalities, although showing signs of decline, remained relatively strong through the 1960s.

As the automobile became the dominant means of transportation and urban sprawl spread outwards from the cores of the cities and towns, shopping centres sprang up to serve the needs of the booming population. The new shopping centre developments of the 1950s and 1960s, which were the contemporaneous new formats of retailing, gained momentum in the 1970s and early 1980s. The Province of Ontario through its planning process encouraged the orderly development of strategically placed shopping centres of various sizes, from small neighbourhood malls, through community malls, anchored by grocery stores and junior department stores, to regional malls with department stores which competed with the central business districts.

During the 1970s, highway improvements to Highways 401 and 24 spurred new growth in the north and eastern portions of Cambridge along Highway 24 towards Highway 401, which provided the all-important connection to Toronto (Figure la). Highway 24, which connects Galt and Guelph, became the focus of new shopping centre and ribbon commercial development. In addition, many new manufacturers located in the industrial parks adjacent to Highway 24, thus providing increased incentives for growth. Gradually, the focus for higher order shopping shifted from the central cores of the communities to the Highway 24 commercial developments. In addition, improvements to Highway 8 between Highway 401 and south Kitchener and the development of a ring road, the Conestoga Parkway, in Kitchener and Waterloo, gave easy access for customers throughout the area to reach the expanding regional shopping centre, Fairview Park Mall (opened in 1966). With the rapid development of the shopping centre structure, there was a noticeable decl ine in the importance of the central business districts. Many of the major retailers in the core, often locally owned, closed as chain stores in shopping centres acquired their customers. A filtering down of the occupants in the core took place as the value of core commercial property dropped. Lower-order activities replaced the former high-order occupants and vacancy rates increased. Used music, record and tape shops replaced women's fashion stores and junior department stores became bingo halls.

The Government of the Province Ontario, recognising the need for careful planning for the developing retail hierarchical structure, published guidelines for municipalities in 1971 and 1975 (McCabe 1971, 1975). These guidelines were designed to assist municipalities in creating a retail structure, which would provide goods and services of all levels, to the residents of the municipality at the least cost for automobile transportation. A hierarchy of shopping centres was the solution. But gradually it was recognised that the shopping centres were diminishing the trade to the central business districts and the Province moved to correct this problem. The Province provided a series of programmes attempting to assist in the future of city cores. In September 1976, the Ontario Downtown Revitalization Program was announced to provide financial assistance to small and medium sized cities (population of 125,000 or less). This was followed by the Main Street Revitalization Program for communities of 30,000 or less popul ation. Of course, the creation of a planned hierarchical retail structure with a strong central core was not unique to Ontario or Canada. Many European countries as well as Japan and some of the socialist countries used similar planning methods (Guy 1998). Hierarchical shopping centre systems also evolved in the highly competitive cities in the United States although the city centre lost its primate position in the system (Longstretch 1997).

However, in addition to those factors described above, there are wider ranging national and international forces affecting the commercial system of the local community. These forces include the introduction of major international retailers, mainly from the United States, changing consumer demands as a result of changing lifestyles and increasing disposable incomes. The result is a myriad of forces that shape the commercial system. The goal of this paper is to visualise the changes that have been brought about by these various factors over the recent past and through the use of a GIS-based analysis and assess the changes to the commercial system of Cambridge that have taken place over the 10-year study period.


In this paper, the commercial structure of Cambridge is visualised at two points in time, 1989 and 1999, in an attempt to analyse the changes that have taken place during the 1990s. During the decade of the 1990s, major changes occurred to the commercial structure of Cambridge as big-box / new-format retailers entered the area and the commercial structure reacted to the new competition. The year, 1989, was selected as a start date because the commercial structure of Cambridge at that time had not yet felt the impact of new-format developments. The ten-year time period is sufficiently long to allow for the evolutionary changes to be seen in the functional composition of the commercial landscape.

Jones and Doucet (2000) suggest that one way to measure the impact of big-box stores on a commercial structure is to look at the functional composition of the commercial zones being studied. With this in mind, it was decided that the most appropriate way to look at the changing morphology is to examine the mixture of stores within the identified commercial zones in 1989 and 1999. Primary commercial zones were selected from the overall commercial structure because of their relative importance within the city. The central business districts for each of the original three cities were selected, as well as the major commercial strip along Highway 24 from the Cambridge Mall located at the south end of the strip to the Pinebush Rd. Power Centre located at the north end, and the suburban shopping centres dispersed throughout the city.

Vernon's Street Directories for 1989 and 1999 were used to collect all business listings based on their known address for the commercial areas being studied (including malls). A database containing the business name, business address, city, postal code and retail category for each business was recorded. Eight retail categories were derived from the SIC (Standard Industrial Classification) code for commercial operations.

Once a complete listing for 1989 and 1999 for all commercial operations was compiled and organised, the next step was to "clean" the database. This had to be done to cope with two potential errors -- those attributable to human recording error and those that occur when the database is geocoded in the GIS. The major focus of the cleaning operation was to ensure addressing consistency. At this point, the file was ready to be imported into the GIS.

Once imported into the GIS, the commercial locations were geocoded onto the street network file (SNF). This file was obtained from Statistics Canada and is based on the 1996 census. Approximately 80 % of the data points were geocoded successfully onto the SNF. The remaining 20 % were identified as 'no match', which meant that there was no record in the SNF that matched the record in the commercial database file. Identified errors included misspelled street names (e.g., Meyers instead of Myers) and incorrect street types (e.g., Ave. versus St.). These errors were corrected and the file was re-geocoded.

This subsequent cleaning and geocoding produced an overall success rate of 90 %. The remaining 10 % can be attributed to new developments not present in the SNF of 1996, or incorrect address ranges in the SNF. The final result, after adjustments, was a GIS database of commercial locations by commercial zone for 1989 and 1999.

The analysis of the database involved two separate functions. The first function was to analyse the data statistically using SPSS. This step revealed where the changes occurred as a function of retail type. It showed whether one type of retailing (e.g. General Retailing) has increased or decreased between the two time periods, thereby revealing the nature of the change in the commercial zone. The second function was to present a visualisation of the geographic layout of the commercial locations by mapping, thereby revealing geographic change in the commercial structure. For example, has development occurred along the entire strip or is there one dominant area within the strip, or more simply, are stores missing from certain areas where they once were? By combining the statistical and geographical analysis, a more complete understanding of the nature of the change was garnered. The schematic details of the methods used in the creation and analysis of the commercial database are shown in Figure 2.

The results of the study of each of the primary commercial zones is presented, beginning with the three core areas or central business districts followed by the suburban commercial nodes and finally the Highway 24 strip and its two anchors.

Central Business Districts

A downtown or central business district (CBD) is the area within the core of a city that "incorporates a variety of specialized commercial areas -- from skid row (bars, cheap restaurants, hotels) to the financial, fashion, and entertainment districts" (Jones and Simmons 1993: 225). In cities that contain only one downtown, or those cities where a single core dominates, this broad definition is applicable. Yeates (1998: 226) adds to this definition by stating that downtowns "remain the area of maximum vertical development of buildings, with new expensive hotels and convention facilities, entertainment facilities, and renovated business areas"

Some downtowns have been able to maintain strong street-level retail activity, some have introduced large retail projects which have been successful while others have had facilities that have failed to integrate into the downtown core properly. The success of downtown cores has not followed any consistent pattern. Jones and Simmons (1993: 228) write "that the downtowns of industrial, bluecollar communities are vulnerable to competition from suburban malls". Furthermore Filion and Rutherford (2000: 367) write, "CBDs of smaller CMA's do not fare as well as those of large metropolitan regions". They then go on to state that these smaller CBDs are often in a state of advanced deterioration with the bulk of retail and commercial services moving to the suburban malls and retail areas. Deteriorating cores are characterised by high vacancy rates and a filtering down of commercial properties to functions, which take advantage of low rental rates. More recently, many communities have begun downtown revitalisation proje cts aimed at bringing the retailers back into the core areas.

Cambridge presents a unique environment within the city system. When the City of Cambridge was created from three smaller communities--Gait, Hespeler and Preston, each of these smaller communities had their own CBD. The former core of Gait then became the official CBD for the newly created city. However, this did not result in the disappearance of the other two cores. This multiple core structure resulted in a further decentralisation of services as opposed to the traditional single core structure. The old cores became part of the greater commercial structure of the new city and their relative success was determined by their geographical position in the city in relation to the new growth areas. As suburban development took place, the evolving planned shopping centre structure gradually usurped much of the commercial importance of the cores. Of particular note is that none of the three core areas have major malls within them. Street front retailing showcasing specialised stores and services are the dominant co mmercial forms in the current cores.

In the following sections, a description of the current commercial structure for each of the core areas discussing the changes that have occurred is presented, followed by an overview of the planned shopping centre structure.

Hespeler Downtown

Hespeler is a small community located north of Highway 401, which has lost most of its industrial base (Figure 1c). The downtown has a small number of retail stores primarily serving, at the neighbourhood level, the inner core residential area and it also provides low cost commercial space. The rapidly growing suburb to the east, with easy access to Highway 401, has attracted several shopping centres which together provide community level service, thereby further affecting the core. This core has experienced the greatest decline in retail storefronts since amalgamation. The core of Hespeler is characterised by one major retail strip with several smaller arteries attached to it.

All types of retailing have declined in this area with the greatest change occurring in the specialty and general retailing categories (Table 1a). However, the total number of commercial operations has increased by a modest 5.6%. The loss of retailing in the core has been counteracted by a 46% increase in business and personal services during the study period. This change denotes a major shift from a retail CBD when this was a busy milling and manufacturing community to a service based commercial node.

Preston Downtown

Unlike its counterpart to the northeast, the downtown core of Preston has remained much more viable in terms of retailing over the study period. The planned shopping centre structure at the community level has had minimal effect on the Preston core because it is separated from suburban development by the Grand River and by surrounding industrial development lands. The core of Preston is characterised by retail strip development along Highway 8 (King St.). Fortunately for Preston, Highway 8 still remains a major traffic corridor for the city as well as the region, and therefore the core enjoys a relatively high level of traffic flow.

The core of Preston has experienced a slight decrease in storefronts (-1.7 %) over the study period (Table 1b). Overall, general retailing has decreased while specialty retailing has experienced a very modest increase. Business and personal services still dominate the area and have also showed a slight increase in total numbers. Food services have remained the same, while recreation and leisure services have decreased. Interestingly, home furnishings and electronics have increased, but this increase appears to be in the form of consignment and second hand stores.

In general, the core of Preston has moved away from being a CBD dominated by general retailing to specialty retailing (primarily in the form of antique and consignment shops) and services now defining the overall makeup of the Preston core

Galt Downtown

The Galt core acts as the "official" CBD for the City of Cambridge. Contained within the core is Cambridge City Hall, as well as a variety of Regional and Provincial satellite offices. Even with the presence of government establishments, the Galt downtown is not immune to the forces affecting CBDs across Canada in medium-sized cities. One major retail strip focussed along Main St., two perpendicular strips along Water and Ainslie Streets, and a less important strip along Dickson St characterise this declining core. Unlike Preston, which has highway vehicular traffic passing through the centre of its core, the Galt core is slightly offset from the major arteries, and with several one-way streets controlling traffic flow, automobile exposure is much more limited. In addition, the Grand River bisects the downtown into two sections. The larger section, east of the river, is the main retail section. The western section primarily contains services and is also the area containing the newest retail developments.

The planned shopping centre structure has affected the core at two locations. There are two important centres at the southern entry of Highway 8 into Cambridge that jointly provide services at the community level. The second location is in the western suburbs where a small centre has evolved into a community level centre during the study period.

Retail within the core over the ten-year study period has decreased. General retailing and food services have experienced decreases of 33 % and 37.5 % respectively; in addition, the total number of storefronts has also decreased slightly (Table 1c). Business and personal services have shown a minor increase, as well as recreation and leisure. All retail-oriented categories under examination have decreased with the exception of automotive services. The majority of stores within the core offer low-value goods.

Unlike the eastern section of the core, the western section has been the location of new commercial developments in recent years. In addition to a variety of services (e.g., doctor's offices, library), new retail developments in the form of factory outlets have been evolving in the southern part of the section. The development started some years ago when Tiger Brand, a casual clothing manufacturer, moved their outlet store into a vacant mill building on the west side of the river. Their success was followed by the conversion of several large manufacturing buildings into an area called the Southworks Factory Outlet Mall. This was an important development for the downtown as it has enhanced the reputation of the Gait as a factory outlet location.

The Outlet Mall has been developed in the manufacturing buildings of the Southworks of the Babcock and Wilcox manufacturing company, which were vacated in the 1980s. Although the first factory outlet store in the buildings, Florsheim Shoes, was opened in 1991 in one of the buildings, the Southworks Factory Outlet Mall was created when the buildings were purchased in 1996 and 1997 by a developer to be renovated into an interior mall format. There are presently twenty businesses and a 30,000 square foot antique store within the complex. These factory outlet centres attract recreational shoppers from a wide area because they employ a low cost strategy to sell brand-name goods that are product overruns or factory seconds.

Southworks Outlet Mall has increased the overall number of retail storefronts within the core, as well as providing a destination for shoppers within the core area. According to a survey conducted by Cambridge-Wright Developments (the parent company of Southworks), a large portion of their shoppers comes from outside of the Region of Waterloo (Cambridge-Wright Developments 2000). The impact that factory outlets are having on the downtown core appears to be quite positive, as they have become major traffic generators for the core.

Overall, the Cambridge city core (Galt) has declined as most retailing categories in the study have experienced some degree of decrease during the ten-year study period. Food, general retailing and specialty retailing were among the worst affected categories, while services and food enjoyed modest increases. Even with the addition of the stores at the Southworks Factory Outlet, this core area has still exhibited a declining number of storefronts.

Conclusions about the Core Areas

Historically, the area now known as Cambridge had existed formerly with three separate downtown cores. These three cores still exist today; however, their makeup has changed, each assuming a new role within the larger city. In the Hespeler core, with its low occupancy cost, historic core buildings now house business/personal/social services instead of the former general and specialty retailing. This area still serves an important central place function by providing services to the local community. Preston on the other hand has changed very little in numbers by category, and additional observations reveal a shift to a low-end occupancy in most categories. Like Hespeler, Preston also serves an important central place role, a role that is probably more defined given the relative distance Preston is away from the major retail area as compared to Hespeler. Unlike the other core areas, Preston is physically constrained by Highway 401, the Grand River and surrounding industrial development and therefore cannot grow to accommodate a larger market. Galt, which was the original settlement, became the new CBD for Cambridge, and has undergone an overall decline in retailing in the core with moderate increases in food and service related operations. But the growing factory outlet area provides the area with many well-known brand-name stores thereby attracting many consumers to the core. This redistribution of commercial services can be attributed to two major causes, the restructuring of the three towns into the city of Cambridge and the increased traffic flow along major arterial roads which has opened the once community oriented retail locations to the entire region and beyond.

Suburban Commercial Nodes

If the core areas of Cambridge have exhibited a general decline in overall commercial operations, the suburban areas have enjoyed major growth over the ten-year study period, servicing the expanding suburban residential areas. This sector is divided into two main categories, the planned shopping centres and the Hespeler Rd (Highway 24) linear commercial complex. Each is discussed separately.

The Planned Shopping Centres

The upper level of the planned shopping centre hierarchy in Cambridge consists of three suburban locations having facilities that are equivalent to community sized malls, a series of strip malls along Highway 24 and, by 1999, one regional shopping centre. The three suburban locations are geographically located near the north, south and western fringes of the city.

The northern grouping of centres lies to the north of Highway 401, at the southern fringe of the old town of Hespeler (Figure 1a). The group contains three individual centres, Holiday Inn, Tri-City and Woodland Park shopping centres. Since Woodland Park was not built prior to 1989, no retail change analysis can be conducted. It presently houses 14 commercial outlets including a discount grocery store, while the services (Business/Personal/Social Services) and restaurants (recreation and leisure) are the dominant categories, with five stores each. The Holiday Inn mall has a Loblaws-owned food retailer (Zehr's), two discount general retailers and a drug store as its major tenants. Little change has occurred in this centre over the study period.

The Tri-City Centre, located adjacent to the Holiday Inn shopping centre, was built in 1988 as a home furnishing and decorating specialty centre that was originally designed to attract symbiotic retailers to the site, and for a limited period of time enjoyed a regional consumer base. In 1989, there were a total of 18 stores of which 13 were classified as home furnishings and electronics. Unfortunately by 1999, the number of commercial facilities had dropped to five resulting in three stores to satisfy the home furnishings market, one of which is a discount/liquidation retailer.

The southern group, consisting of the South Cambridge Mall and the Highland Shopping Centre have not exhibited significant change in their commercial makeup during the study period. Overall, the number of stores increased from 52 to 64. Two of the surveyed categories showed an increase over the others with the service categories showing an increase of 7, and the specialty retailing category showing an increase of 4 stores. South Cambridge Mall, anchored by a Zehr's supermarket, Home Hardware and Bi-Way, lost its K-Mart but showed an increase of 5 additional stores. The Highland Centre, anchored by Canadian Tire, Loeb supermarket and Zellers department store has remained virtually unchanged.

Westgate Plaza in the western suburbs of Cambridge changed from a neighbourhood level centre to a community level centre with the addition of a Sobey's supermarket and 14 stores.

The suburban malls continued to grow throughout the ten-year study period, with one new mall emerging along with an increase in store counts in the existing malls. This trend is contrary to the trend exhibited in the 1990s of little shopping centre development (Jones 2000). The majority of changes came in the service and specialty retailing categories where, not surprisingly, the new format/big box retailers create little direct competition.

The Hespeler Rd (Highway 24) Linear Commercial Complex

During the study period, the commercial ribbon on Hespeler Rd between Pinebush Rd. and Munch Ave. has become the most important area in the commercial structure of Cambridge. This portion of Hespeler Rd. has high traffic volumes because of its place in the city and region, with easy access to Highway 401. Contained within this commercial ribbon is the regional level shopping centre, the Cambridge Centre Mall (formerly known as the John Galt Centre) at the southern terminus of the commercial ribbon, and the Pinebush Power Centre at the northern end of the ribbon. Between these two important anchors is a diverse and thriving commercial ribbon of strip malls, new formats and big box stores, and a wide variety of highway oriented retail and service establishments.

The Cambridge Centre Mall (John Galt Centre) was originally built in 1973 and contained 34 stores and functioned as a community level mall (Table 2a). In 1993, a major expansion and renewal to the facility changed this centre to a regional facility. In 1999, Cambridge Centre contained 85 commercial facilities anchored by the Hudson's Bay Company, Zellers and a Famous Players Movie Theatre. During the study period, all but one category increased in absolute numbers. The home furnishing and electronics category dropped to 4 stores from 5 during the mall's 54 store expansion.

Although all remaining categories in the mall grew by at least 100 %, two categories dominated this growth. General retailing grew by 143 %, consisting mainly of fashion stores (particularly high end), again another area which big box/new format retailers are not directly competing against. Jones and Doucet (1998) have argued that it is this category that will contribute to the overall health of the mall. Finally, the increase in recreation and leisure is a result of a food court being added to the mall during expansion. Overall, the Cambridge Centre has grown in conjunction with the emerging dominance of the Highway 24 commercial ribbon providing this linear node with an anchor at the southern extent.

The Hespeler Rd (Highway 24) commercial ribbon, approximately 3 km in length, has commercial development on both sides of a four-land artery running between the Cambridge Centre Mall and the Pinebush Power Centre. Between these two anchors is a variety of stand alone retailers, strip malls, and big box retailers comprising over 500,000 square feet of commercial space. Due to its location on the most direct connection to Highway 401, this area has emerged through the 1980s as the dominant retail development in Cambridge (City of Cambridge 2000). The two snapshots in time show the growing dominance of this retail strip. Despite the redevelopment of the Cambridge Centre Mall into a regional centre and the addition of the regional power centre at Pinebush Rd., the number of commercial establishments grew from 168 (1989) to 204 in 1999 to take advantage of the available complementary or parasitic locations on the strip. It is likely that the presence of these two strong anchors has attracted more facilities to the strip than they have driven away.

The Hespeler Rd. Retail Strip portion of Table 2b allows several notable observations about each of the 8 categories. First, the strip has changed from a Highway Oriented Ribbon to an Urban Arterial (Berry 1959). The blue collar, space extensive retailers of the Urban Arterial designation (Construction/ Landscaping/Building materials category in this study) have declined as have the commercial categories of automotive and food that Berry used to define Highway Oriented Ribbons. Second, the Hespeler ribbon does not seem to conform to the definition put forth by Jalde and Mattson (1981) who based their concept of ribbon development on a process of retailing replacing residential uses over time. Hespeler Rd has developed from a greenfield state and therefore had no residential units to replace. Finally, the ribbon should be designated as a Linear Commercial Complex (Davies and Baxter 1997) since it also contains three planned commercial strips within the ribbon plus major anchors at each end.

The category experiencing the greatest increase was the Specialty Retailing segment, which more than doubled from 11 to 25 stores. This growth is supported by Morgan (1989), Sinopoli (1996) and Davies and Baxter (1997) who stated that commercial ribbons allow new retail categories to enter the market through the retail strip because of relaxed rental and aesthetic costs when compared to a planned shopping centre. Increases in the service sector can be directly attributed to the evolving nature of the area's economy from a manufacturing centre to a tertiary sector based economy. The economic boom over the past decade correlates well with the noted increase in the number of recreation and leisure facilities. The final category, Home Furnishings and Electronics, experienced a minimal decline over the study period.

The Hespeler Rd commercial ribbon appears to be thriving and growing throughout the study period. Concerns regarding the effect of major anchors at the terminuses of the ribbon presently seem to be unfounded, and do not appear to have had a negative effect on the general health of the ribbon.

Pinebush Road Power Centre

The Pinebush Road power centre is the newest of the commercial developments within the city of Cambridge. Located just south of Highway 401, this area has grown from being the site of a Knob Hill Farms to the location of over 10 major retailers, with more being built. The intersection adjacent to the power centre is now the busiest in the Region of Waterloo (The Record, April 18, 2001). During the study period, this area evolved as a growing concentration of various newformat retailers within close proximity to each other, but in 1999, formal development for a power centre was finalised and construction began. Canadian Tire, a resident since 1995 (redeveloped their existing store) and the Staples store (1997) were joined by Wal-Mart (1998) and four new retailers, Roots, Moores, Danier, and BouClair in 1999 as the core of the newly evolving Pinebush Power Centre (Table 3).

Conclusions about the Hespeler Rd. Linear Commercial Complex.

Even though growth along the Hespeler Rd. retail strip is minimal compared to the growth experienced at its poles, there has been a shift in the nature of the retailing. Large ticket retailing, such as those associated with the home furnishings market, has decreased with general and specialty retailing replacing those losses and adding others. Major retail chains, such as Shopper's Drug Mart and Winners, have found a niche along this commercial ribbon. However, it is when the data for the entire commercial ribbon are combined that the growth is strongly evident. The majority of the growth is directly attributable to the increase in traffic along this corridor.

General and Specialty Retailing have led the growth of this area with absolute numbers at least doubling during the study period. These new additions have come in the form of many major retail chains. When the Pinebush Power Centre figures are included, the growth in this area is dramatic. New retailers are constantly opening in the power centre as well as along the commercial ribbon. Other areas have grown marginally (services, food), while some have shown strong growth (recreation and leisure). Overall, this area has experience almost a 50% growth rate from 1989 to 1999 (Table 2c). In addition, this area has grown from a community level service area to a regional service area that includes the Region of Waterloo, the Greater Hamilton area and the city of Guelph.

The Hespeler Rd. linear commercial complex has evolved, during the ten years under study from a highway oriented commercial ribbon to its current position as a major force in the commercial structure of Cambridge and the Region of Waterloo and beyond. Changing consumer demands and shopping patterns have made this area a primary location for new commercial development that has been further encouraged by the regional planning department. Many of the national and international retail and service names can now be found along Hespeler Rd. either on the ribbon or in the Cambridge Centre Mall or the Pinebush Power Centre.

This commercial area is not only the dominant retail area within the City of Cambridge, it is also being positioned as a major retail destination in Southern Ontario. Strategically positioned along Highway 401 in close proximity to Toronto, Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo and London, this area has become a probable destination for all varieties of consumers.


As one of the fastest growing cities in Southern Ontario, Cambridge has undergone substantial restructuring and change over the last several decades. The city of Cambridge was formed through the merging of three older towns--Hespeler, Gait and Preston. As a result, the city of Cambridge had three central business districts with the core of Galt forming the new official city core. As highway improvements were made and better connections with Highway 401 were introduced, the commercial growth of the city shifted from the core areas to the arterial routes and the suburbs. This resulted in a gradual shift of higher-order goods from the downtown cores to the arterial commercial ribbons. With the introduction of new-format retailers in the mid 1990s, a dynamic commercial landscape has been formed.

The purpose of this paper was to develop a GIS database to visualise the dynamic commercial landscape and to examine what effect (if any) the introduction of the new-format retailers had on the commercial system. Street level data were collected using Vernon's Street Directories for 1989 and 1999 and these were input into a GIS database for visualisation. The examination focussed on three main zones within the study area--the central business districts, the suburban malls and the Hespeler Rd. linear commercial complex.

The GIS proved to be extremely valuable for visualising the retail data. Spatial changes in retail location can be analysed using a spreadsheet in terms of absolute value changes, but the visualisation capabilities of the GIS allow for the detection of spatial patterns which would be lost in the static spreadsheet. These spatial patterns reflect not only the changing retail locations but also illustrate the overall changes in the urban spatial form.

The central business districts exhibited an overall decline in total number of storefronts and also experienced a shift in the nature of the retail. The Hespeler CBD has transformed into a service oriented core area, while Preston has shifted to a more specialised area, while the Galt CBD is trying to develop an identity as the main core area for the city by retaining a strong retail presence. In addition, the Gait core area has experienced an upsurge with the development of factory outlets malls in an historic area of the core, but in general the core has declined in total number of commercial operations.

While the core areas have stagnated or declined, the suburban malls have experienced moderate growth. Several malls have been renewed to take advantage of the larger regional market, while others have been able to survive in the changing competitive environment. Limited mall growth has occurred in Cambridge with one mall being built after 1989 and one mall being expanded to assist in expansion to a larger regional market.

The last study area is the Hespeler Rd linear commercial complex, comprised of the Cambridge Centre Mall, the Hespeler Rd retail strip and the Pinebush Rd power centre. Acting as the southern anchor for the Hespeler Rd commercial ribbon, the Cambridge Centre Mall was doubled in 1993, increasing its capacity to 85 commercial facilities. Since then, the mall has grown to serve a regional population. Connecting the Cambridge Centre Mall to Highway 401 is the Hespeler Rd (Highway 24) commercial ribbon. This retail strip, which presently contains 209 stores along a 3 km stretch of highway, is home to numerous national chains and several new-format retailers (Winners, Super Pet) and many independents. Experiencing a 21 % increase in the total number of stores from 1989 to 1999, this strip has grown to be a major retail area in the city. At the northern terminus of the Hespeler Rd. linear commercial complex is the Pinebush Rd power centre. This is a regional level new-format/big box store complex, presently anchored by Wal-Mart, Canadian Tire and Staples. Originally an unplanned cluster of retailers, this is now the major planned retail area for the city with plenty of room for additional retailers.

The emergence of new format retailing into the commercial structure of Cambridge has caused the Hespeler Rd. linear commercial complex to become the dominant retail area in the city and one of the dominant areas for the Region of Waterloo. It is difficult to assess what impacts, in terms of store closures and job losses, these retailers have had on the commercial system. But, the three struggling central cores give evidence to the impact of these recent developments. What is illustrated is that these new-format retailers provide a catalyst for development and future growth. As other areas in Cambridge strive to survive in an increasingly competitive environment, the Hespeler Rd area is enjoying unparalleled growth.

"Core" Retail Distribution by Type

Table 1a: Hespeler 1989 Count 1999 Count % Change

General Retailing 3 1 -66
Specialty Retailing 10 5 -50
Construction/Lanscaping/Building 6 1 -83
Business/Personal/Social Services 41 60 46.3
Automotive 1 0 -100
Food 2 1 -50
Recreation and Leisure 8 7 -12.5
Home Furnishing and Electronics 0 0 0

Total 71 75 5.6

Table 1b: Preston
General Retailing 13 8 -38
Specialty Retailing 24 25 4.1
Construction/Lanscaping/Building 8 5 -37.5
Business/Personal/Social Services 91 100 9.9
Automotive 8 4 -50
Food 7 7 0
Recreation and Leisure 18 16 -11
Home Furnishing and Electronics 9 10 11

Total 178 175 -1.7

Table 1c: Galt
General Retailing 33 22 -33
Specialty Retailing 61 46 -24.6
Construction/Lanscaping/Building 25 20 -20
Business/Personal/Social Services 290 300 3.5
Automotive 16 18 12.5
Food 13 7 -37.5
Recreation and Leisure 41 42 2
Home Furnishing and Electronics 16 15 -6

Total 495 470 -5.0


Cambridge Mall & Hespeler Rd. Commercial Ribbon

Table 2a: Cambridge Centre Mall 1989 Count 1999 Count % Change

General Retailing 10 29 147
Specialty Retailing 6 12 100
Construction/Lanscaping/Building 0 1 100
Business/Personal/Social Services 9 18 100
Automotive 1 2 100
Food 3 7 133
Recreation and Leisure 0 12 120
Home Furnishing and Electronics 5 4 -20
Total 34 85 150

Table 2b: Hespeler Rd. Commercial

General Retailing 8 13 63
Specialty Retailing 11 25 127
Construction/Lanscaping/Building 10 8 -20
Business/Personal/Social Services 47 63 34
Automotive 36 34 -5
Food 9 6 -33
Recreation and Leisure 28 38 35
Home Furnishing and Electronics 19 17 -10

Total 168 204 21

Table 2c: Total (Table 2a + Table 2b)

General Retailing 18 42 133
Specialty Retailing 17 37 117
Construction/Lanscaping/Building 10 9 -10
Business/Personal/Social Services 56 81 45
Automotive 37 36 -2.1
Food 12 13 8.3
Recreation and Leisure 28 50 43
Home Furnishing and Electronics 24 21 -14

Total 202 289 44


New Format Retailers: Pinebush Rd Power Centre & Hespeler Rd Commercial

Banner Name Location open Date

Pinebrush Power Centre
BouClair Pinebush Power Centre 1999
Canadian Tire Pinebush Power Centre 1995
Danier Leather Pinebush Power Centre 1999
Knob Hill [Farms.sup.2] Pinebush Power Centre 1990
Moores -- The suit People Pinebush Power Centre 1999
Roots Pinebush Power Centre 1999
Staples Pinebush Power Centre 1997
Walmart Pinebush Power Centre 1998

Hespeler Rd. Commercial Ribbon

Cambridge Centre Cinemas Hwy 24 Retail Strip n.a.
Super Pet Hwy 24 Retail Strip n.a.
Value Village Hwy 24 Retail Strip 1993
Winners Hwy 24 Retail Strip 1997
Zehr's Hwy 24 Retail Strip 1999

Banner Name GFA (sq.ft)

Pinebrush Power Centre
BouClair 9,500
Canadian Tire 57,700
Danier Leather 6,500
Knob Hill [Farms.sup.2] 300,000
Moores -- The suit People 6,000
Roots 6,500
Staples 50,000
Walmart 90,000

Hespeler Rd. Commercial Ribbon

Cambridge Centre Cinemas 33,200
Super Pet 17,400
Value Village 23,000
Winners 30,000
Zehr's 82,000

Note: (1.) Gross floor area. Represents total retail speace avaialble
withing the store.

(2.) Knob Hill Farms closed Fall 2000.

* Funding for this project was made possible through a grant from GEOIDE (Geomatics for Informed Decisions) and support from the Centre for the Study of Commercial Activity (CSCA).


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Christopher D. Storie

Wilfrid Laurier University, Geography and Environmental Studies Waterloo, ON N2L 3C5 (1)

(1.) Corresponding author can be contacted at 1-519-884-0710 ext. 3872, at the following email address or by the mailing address above.
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Author:Storie, Christopher D.; Oakley, Chris; Muncaster, Russell
Publication:Canadian Journal of Regional Science
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Date:Sep 22, 2001
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