Kingsmills Department Store to Close

March 1, 2014
By: Reurbanist

In 2012 I wrote about the Kingsmill Department Store and how it was the last of an era. Unfortunately, Kingsmill has announced they will be closing after 148 years in business. The previous article posted can be found below.
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For over a century, downtown department stores were the iconic shopping destinations in Canadian cities. This prominence began to fade in the 1970s as a suburbanizing customer base, and increased competition from new enclosed malls, began to shift retail spending away from downtowns. The 1980s and 1990s were disastrous decades, wiping out dozens of long established department stores across Canada.

Founded in 1865, Kingsmills in downtown London, Ontario, stands out against this trend. Not only has the store remained in a downtown location through a challenging period in London’s history, it actually has been expanding. The store has been in the Kingsmill family for five generations and is currently operated by Tim Kingsmill, great-great grandson of founder Thomas Frazer Kingsmill. Spread across four floors and 74,000 sq. ft., the store sells typical department store type merchandise. Kingsmills is particularly well known for selling quality home furnishing products and is a popular destination for wedding registries. The store even features a manually operated elevator, complete with an elevator attendant.

As I wrote about in The Perpetual Sale Addiction of Department Stores, major players in Canada have been in something of a death spiral that they are now trying hard to escape. How has Kingsmills been able to survive, and expand, in downtown London during this same time period? Keep in mind that downtown London has seen its fair share of department store failures. By the time Eaton’s went bankrupt, its downtown London store was achieving only $35 per sq. ft. in sales annually. The Bay managed to last until 2001, before being converted to London’s Central Public Library. Instead of trying to compete with suburban retailers on price, Kingsmills has focused on customer service and building long term relationships. Londoners are strongly loyal to the store, a sentiment which has led them to continue to drive downtown to shop even after they relocated to the suburbs. It’s not as if Kingsmills is simply living in the past; the store has an excellent website and offers free shipping. At the end of the day, however, shoppers first and foremost want to be treated as if they are special. It’s an important lesson that our better recognized department store chains are only just remembering.

Today, there is a lot to be positive about in downtown London. The Central London Public Library and Fanshawe College’s forthcoming downtown campus are key turning points helping to draw businesses back. Over the past few years, multiple new restaurants and stores have opened along Dundas Street, and nearby residential developments are bringing new customers within walking distance. It appears Kingsmills has weathered the storm and has bright prospects in the years to come.

About Reurbanist
Reurbanist™ believes retail offers cities the best opportunity to recreate their urban fabric.

Developers, investors and governments around the world are recognizing how retail offers enormous opportunities. Retail is the glue which holds communities, neighbourhoods and mixed use developments together.
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