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Fashion & Style

Toronto malls in need of makeovers: Woodbine Centre

Posted by Robyn Urback / May 16, 2011

Woodbine Centre MallDon't let the headline fool you. Before I elaborate, I think it's necessary that I reiterate a few details mentioned in the introductory post in this series. When we first came up with the concept for these posts, we decided to poll our Twitter followers to see which Toronto malls, according to Twitterverse public opinion, were most in need of makeovers. We took those results, compiled a list of 10, and set out to explore the malls that time forgot.

However, when I stepped inside Woodbine Centre for the first time, I knew it just didn't belong. Sure, there were some failings: a bland and drab exterior, planes roaring as they descended nearby, and the epitome of "never a good sign" retail--a Dollarama. Plus, the pungent scent of nail polish remover seemed to have engulfed the parking lot, which, at that time, was saturated in club beats from a parked Dodge Avenger nearby.

Woodbine Centre MallBut inside, the mall had few of the telltale signs of "past-its-prime" I had been observing in other spaces these past two weeks. There were two levels of retail consisting of a mix of chain shops and independents. The space was open and clean, filled with luster and natural light. And there was a food court. Yes, an actual, populated food court.

Woodbine Centre MallAs I paced the mall taking in some of the stores, my position changed from surprise to esteem. Woodbine was actually a pretty charming place. There was everything from Rainbow Cinemas to Labels, Royal Shoe Repair to Bulk Barn. The mall opened up to a pleasant atrium in the middle, complete with glass elevator and possibly fake plants. But the best part of the centre was definitely at the south end of the mall.

Woodbine Centre Fantasy FairThat's right, Fantasy Fair. And yes, my face lit up like a five-year-old (curiously, the age of most of the patrons here) when I saw the spinning teacups and bumper boats. *Squeee* and funnel cakes! An indoor amusement park complete with arcade, antique carousel, Ferris wheel, and cotton candy (plus, a nail salon nearby for mom), Woodbine Centre houses what purports to be Ontario's largest amusement park. How, Twitter friends, can a mall with a Fantasy Fair Express Train ever be in need of a makeover?

I reluctantly pulled myself away from the mirror maze, where Elmo's Song was playing gleefully in the background. If this mall is truly hopelessly dated, I guess I am too.


  • Anchor store: The Bay, Sears, Zellers
  • Quality of shops: Decent
  • Most unique feature: There's a Hurricane Simulator here too!
  • Average age of patrons: Velcro shoes and sippy cups
  • Quality of food court: If fast food is your thing: nom nom nom
  • Need for makeover: Makeover?!

Previously in this series:



qwerty / May 16, 2011 at 09:21 am
Oh the memories! I must go back.
Shayne Gapp / May 16, 2011 at 09:23 am
I used to love going here as a kid, but like any chuck-e-cheese theme type place becomes to adults, it's tired and shitty now.
Stra / May 16, 2011 at 09:43 am
memories - I was arrested in this mall as a teen, and banned for life.
Dave K / May 16, 2011 at 09:50 am
Anyone remember the movie The Freshman where Matthew Broderick becomes an apprentice for mob boss Marlon Brando? Not an amazing movie or anything, but they shot a scene at Woodbine Centre. Broderick and his friend (played by Frank Whaley) chase an escaped kimodo dragon through the mall.
hendrix / May 16, 2011 at 10:09 am
When I was a kid, this mall was new. I remember it being so cool and wonderful.
Empty / May 16, 2011 at 10:18 am
So many empty stores now, especially on the bottom floor on the south side by the bay. almost every store is gone. When the zellers there become a target will it breath life back into the place?
Ryan L. / May 16, 2011 at 10:35 am
It's a fairly healthy mall as I stated in a previous comment. The only thing that makes it seem neglected is the fantasy fair itself when you visit the mall during a time when it's not being used. The stationary rides and huge space empty of people does make the mall feel very empty, even though the rides themselves seem to be kept in top condition.

I'd actually rather go here than the Eaton Centre as there is a nicer variety of stores.
Ryan L. replying to a comment from Empty / May 16, 2011 at 10:53 am
"almost every store is gone. "

Yeah... That's not true at all. This mall doesn't have more vacant stores than any other mall that's not Yorkdale or The Eaton Centre.
nofuss / May 16, 2011 at 11:10 am
I was there for the first time in years on the weekend....Saw a lovely lady walking through the parking lot with the BIGGEST ass I've ever seen, wearing tight tights strutting her stuff...I was in love for about 30 seconds
anonymous / May 16, 2011 at 11:12 am
I used to buy weed over the counter at a certain store at this mall during my college days.
fantasyfairkid / May 16, 2011 at 11:42 am
there are plans by woodbine entertainment (the race track) to knock down this mall to build a Smart Centre (you know, penguins, walmart etc)

This is a beautiful mall with so many memories. It also offers affordable entertainment to parents who can't afford to take their kids to wonderland. KEEP IT ALIVE!!!
jim doolus / May 16, 2011 at 11:56 am
Its became quite ethnic over the years..
corona / May 16, 2011 at 12:10 pm
i remember when this place was built. my friends used to have their birthday parties there - oh memories!
Ryan L. replying to a comment from jim doolus / May 16, 2011 at 12:28 pm
I'm not sure what you mean by that exactly. The stores are predominately still 'western' in nature. Or are you talking about the people who shop there? If so, why is this worth mentioning?
Dov Eles / May 16, 2011 at 12:57 pm
We use to head out to the 'burbs in the late 80's and early 90's when it opened (or was renovated) to go to Fantasy Fair and JJ Muggs. I bought a sweet old-time Chicago White Sox hat there around the time Eight Men Out was out. I am pretty sure a part of Police Academy 4 was filmed there as well; David Spade, on a skateboard, being chased around the mall.
Rexdale / May 16, 2011 at 05:33 pm
I hope you managed to head a little further east... to the ALBION mall.
Empty replying to a comment from Ryan L. / May 16, 2011 at 06:36 pm
i was there yesterday, it is true. Go down stairs form the dollar nest to bay, and look at all the empty stores, or just across from the dollar where the toy.comic store was those are all empty too. or go to the food court a few stalls went out of business including the dairy queen across from zellers.
oh yeah / May 16, 2011 at 06:55 pm
here is the only place i could find they mention knocking down woodbine:

plus many there find the mall dying a slow death as well.
steve / May 16, 2011 at 06:58 pm
Your list is about malls from the 70's and 80's. Sometimes malls are built in need of a makeover before they open
One that come to mind is 10 Dundas Street East. A new version of what was there before. Ugly inside and out, a testamont to a suburban mayor and a councillor who wanted a legacy. It sits half empty and offers no reason to enter except to get to the subway the Theatres and for Ryerson Students.
See what moved into the vacated HMV store. That corner is doomed to repeat history.
Don / May 16, 2011 at 10:30 pm
I work near Woodbine so it tends to be the mall I go to if I need to go to a mall - I've been working near it for almost 15 years so I've watched it slide slowly downhill over time.

A short list of the stores that have left:
- The Gap
- La Senza
- Three music stores
- two book stores
- McDonald's
- Mr Submarine
- JJ Muggs
- Juice for Life
- Dairy Queen
- Shoppers' Drug Mart

The Bay store there is a disgrace to the chain (not that The Bay is much to speak of but this outlet is more than depressing), filled with depressed employees and low stock.

The sword of Damocles hanging over Woodbine Centre is the coming expansion of the Woodbine Racetrack complex - they were approved to redevelop and add a mega-entertainment/retail destination a little while ago and once that arrives, Woodbine will just disappear.. Fantasy Fair and all.
Ryan L. replying to a comment from Don / May 17, 2011 at 10:48 am
I guess I've been mistaken. I haven't been to the mall in about 2 years and at the time it seemed that the mall was very healthy. Turns out a lot can happen in 2 years.

Wouldn't be surprised if this has to do with the threats of redevelopment. I wouldn't be too eager to renew my lease if I knew they were just going to bulldoze the mall in a couple years
bob / May 17, 2011 at 01:25 pm
I live in the area and knew Woodbine was doomed when it lost its McDonalds. This place used to be a really great destination mall in the 1990s and would even have a cool vibe in the middle of the week. Dissapointed to see what has happened. Rainbow cinemas is one of its only consistent traffic drawers. Sears is pretty sad compared to what it once was, I don't even want to mention the Bay. A few stores do to a good job such as Tip Top, Footlocker, The Source, SportChek and Children's Place. Something needs to occupy where JJ Muggs once was, a decent eat in restaurant, we really need that in the area.
Adam Sobolak / May 17, 2011 at 09:30 pm
If one wants a gauge of why Woodbine Centre qualifies in this series, one must remember that it's fallen from a higher position than virtually any other in said series--after all, it was conceived as a classic, Cold War-era "hub mall", one whose primary retail anchors were of the Eatons/Simpsons/Bay/Sears type, rather than the Towers/Kmart/Woolco type. Trouble is that it came about right as department stores a la Eatons/Simpsons entered their long slide into dinosaurdom--and, not insignificantly, right as its north Etobicoke catchbasin entered its tailspin into all-too-often-impoverished ethnoburbia. Thus, it presently feels weird, unmoored, orphaned--a "white middle" concoction serving a community scarcely that "white" or "middle" anymore.
Daisy / May 22, 2011 at 12:48 pm
I live in the Eglinton Ave E. and Victoria Park area. Our area is booming with new outlet malls and I can see an increase in our property value. My husband and I are young parents with good jobs. I see an increase of young successfull families coming to our area. Our mall is Eglinton Square. What a terrible mall! Absolutely nothing in that mall for the average younge family. The mall is constantly swarming with loitering seniors. Everyone one in my area travels to Fairview mall. Other than Shoppers, a poor footlocker, and a laSenza the mall is garbage. Even the bay is terrible. The the mall has been nick named "Senior Center" with people in the area. This is a mall should be updated to accomadate both the seniors and the younger generation coming to the area. It's a shame that this is the only mall within the growing area and everyone avoids it and goes to Scarbrough Town or Fairview Mall.
Toby / September 15, 2011 at 02:16 pm
There isnt a CD store.. or a Book store.
i go to see movies, or to get stuff at the dollar store.
but it needs some new stuff
Michelle replying to a comment from fantasyfairkid / February 7, 2012 at 10:38 pm
Amen! Parent's used to take us here every Sunday for 2 hours of fun. The mall was so full of life back then.
BoltOfSteroids / August 23, 2012 at 11:21 am
They built non profit housing units right next door in the early 90's and now its become a ghetto mall, as have the rest of Rexdale, Malton, Brampton, turban heads galore.
romy / September 19, 2012 at 01:46 pm
need makeover in this mall...although fantasy fair is nice for a little kids during winter juz a little bit of reinventing, then people would love more to come here..coz this is the only mall i know that it has a huge playground...then parents can do shopping...makeover is the answer of being a dead mall right kids love fantasy fair..
tashie / April 13, 2013 at 04:00 pm
I am familiar with Woodbine mall. Worst customer service I have ever received today. I usually have booked the salon called U'nique (located on the lower floor by sportscheck) for hair appointments and have paid for the salon to cater to wedding parties for family and friends. I have to say being a regular customer there was no customer service. The owner is selective with how they cater customer service.I had voiced I had called three times and left my number for someone to respond to me, the response received was I was ignorant and that she was too busy to speak to me. But yet moments earlier she was engaging conversation with other customers. You have to wonder if she has any education or knowledge about customer service due to her to her lack of communication skills.
Lisa / July 9, 2013 at 11:54 pm
I believe if they would do some renovation to this mall and bring back some stores, and new stores it would definitely be the mall of my choice to shop. The lay out of this mall is very nice. I would rather go to woodbine than Vaughan mills mall if they update with new stores.
aman / November 25, 2013 at 06:06 pm
we went there bought annual pass for our baby and when we were buying they only mentioned three rides that parents need to go with baby buying separate first day we went on 5 rides the child was accompanied by parent in 4 of them and no one ask us to buy separate ticket.but when we went next day they never allowed us to go on any ride accept mary go round they asked us to buy separate ticket,we went to talk to manager who charged us one day ticket money and returned rest of the money but was never sorry about their mistake.i will never go back there again I did not like the customer service at all.
anonymous / February 20, 2014 at 12:16 pm
i remember going to this mall as a kid. the fanatsy fair was always a treat. sometimes if i was lucky i would get an all day pass- usually just tickets. this mall used to be so alive. always full of live with so much laughter. its still a fairly good hit with the fantasy fair. but the rest has just went DOWN hill. i remeber walking to this mall (about 45mins-1 hour walk) as a teenager in the cold winter storm just to try out clothes and take pics. mcdonalds was the it place. so many good memories but they all fade slowly. this mall is shit now. id rather stay home than go here-unless i need quick food or something from dollarama
anonymous / February 20, 2014 at 12:18 pm
i remember the big athletic work sale (closing down store) so many good stores left
anonymous / February 20, 2014 at 12:20 pm
iif they just renovated the store, i know they can bring their revenue up and the mall back to life. people want to go here but the mall forces people otherwise. with its dullness -there's nothing to go for. if the revamped it up -Reno the deco add some awesome stores- it will all be back!
anonymous / May 18, 2014 at 03:08 pm
I highly doubt they are planning to demolish the mall-- the original place of Zellers is now listed as "the future home of Target."
NativeTorontonianAl / May 18, 2014 at 08:06 pm
Cadillac Fairview used to be the company that owned and ran Woodbine and Erin Mills Town Centre, among others, but if there's anyone to blame, it's that group. While they helped makeover and extend Erin Mills TC, they clearly left out Woodbine Centre. And that huge parking lot at front? Eyesore. If they cared, they would sell parts of that lot and do what is the case these days - fill them in and densify. What about condos since Toronto is gagged by them, and make for mixed use buildings and zones. Woodbine Centre and any mall have the potential to recover and rejuvenate by densifying and creating real zones like villages or BIAs like Shops at Don Mills. Anyways, the thing is this is now the post-mall era, and it's not just because of the bad economy, but simply because malls-big box-sprawl combination is just not lasting and practical. It's not natural for the way we live.
nicdees / October 11, 2014 at 02:19 am
I miss the J J Muggs. By the way if they occupy the parking lot they will have no room for the circus. I think it started to decline once they built the casino. And people thought casinos revive areas. How could they everybody just wants to go piss there money away they don't have time to shop.
dsf / March 8, 2015 at 05:39 pm
How about the hideous but new Aura underground mall?
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