There are similarities between the impacts of office and retail development trends on study areas. In both cases, present location preferences and configurations are unfavourable to study areas. The Centre for the Study of Commercial Activity has documented the rapid spread since the early 1990s of the big-box store format, often aggregated within power centres (CSCA, 1996, 78-91; Hernandez, Erguden and Bermingham, 2006; Jones and Doucet, 1999). Not surprisingly, the proliferation of big-box stores has coincided with a marked deceleration of shopping mall development and rising vacancies along main streets.
The big-box format represents a major potential source of competition for downtown and node retail establishments. Preferring low-cost locations with excellent automobile accessibility (such as industrial lands), big-box stores do not generally opt for the types of intensified environments investigated in this report, and their presence in other locations lures shoppers away from the retailing found in downtowns and nodes (Jones and Doucet, 1999). In reality, however, study areas have attracted some of the minority of big-box stores that locate in shopping malls and on traditional shopping streets. Moreover, by virtue of their presence at the summit of the retail hierarchy, the three regional malls in our study areas (downtown Toronto's Eaton Centre, Scarborough Town Centre, and Square One in the Mississauga City Centre) have withstood big-box competition better than most. In fact, two of these have undergone recent expansion: Scarborough Town Centre in 1998 and Square One in 2005. North York Centre has also experienced growth in its retail space. A new mall, part of a condominium complex, was added in 1997 and expanded in 2000. Likewise, the two small downtowns were untouched by big-box stores. The focus on niche markets and hospitality of downtown Oakville shelters it from the competition of these stores, and given the advanced depletion of the downtown Kitchener retail scene, there is little supplementary damage to be inflicted by big-box stores.
It is the nodes that are planned for the future that will be most affected by the predominance of the big-box store. While two of the existing nodes developed around existing malls (as we will see, not without some adverse consequences on pedestrian movement and synergy), future nodes will be denied this possibility. The scattering of big-box stores will make it difficult for them to attract mass retailing and thus achieve a high degree of multi-functionality. Furthermore, the weak presence of retailing in emerging nodes may impede their capacity to draw other land use, notably, office employment and high-density housing.
Not only do big-box stores imperil the launching of new nodes, but they are also at the antipodes of the planning objectives pursued by the Places to Grow Urban Growth Centre strategy. Either as stand-alone structures or when agglomerated into power centres, big-box stores operate in a mono-functional environment that is fully adapted to the automobile and that generates high volumes of car journeys, especially since these generally have a single destination, in contrast with the multi-purpose trips to shopping malls.