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A recent $31.6-million lawsuit filed against developer Canderel Residential about the Shops at Aura on College St. is probably the most attention it’s ever gotten in its life. The mall beneath Bed Bath & Beyond and Marshalls was originally marketed on the developer’s brochure as a high-end venue, but in reality is a mopey little ghost town with half of its stores unoccupied. The other half contain bored shopkeepers and worrying signs like the “Don’t worry, we’re professionals” ones that grace the fronts of questionable beauty shops.


Previously called “the worst mall in Toronto” by blogTO, the layout is an unintuitive maze, and even with its optimal position on Yonge, it’s tucked in a basement that doesn’t look like it can or should be accessed by mall-goers. Besides that, it’s awkwardly separated from the College Park shops as well as the College TTC station, meaning no one even knows that it exists, much less goes in there.


The mall opened in 2013, which is shocking, because it feels much more like a recently-renovated dead mall that might have had foot traffic at some point in the ’90s. The buyer of one condo, optician Alfred Wong, was promised that it would be upscale and well-frequented because of the PATH, connecting it from College to over 1,000 stores and Union Station. The issue is that the PATH hasn’t been built yet, and won’t be for another 10 years if it will be at all, as no development has been seen. Meanwhile, Wong is “losing money every day.”


Although Wong’s claims of negligent misrepresentation and breach of contract, among others, have yet to be addressed, a little trip around the place can help anybody believe his case. If there was one word that could sum up the little ghost mall, you’d immediately come up with “sad.”


The place has the layout and the look of a mall expected to succeed—some stores done up with extremely gaudy and chic decor, the spaces clean and bright—as though this wasn’t supposed to happen. A small stage for events stands in the cozy food court, which has space for twelve food vendors. Only three of those twelve have been occupied, and all of them sell sushi. Over half of the 122 retail units are unused. and almost none of them look like they have any plans to rectify that sorry fact any time soon. Half of the stores that are being occupied, too, are closed, despite it being daytime on a Tuesday, as though the shopkeepers just decided not to come into work. And indeed, all they’d lose would be one or two customers at most.


Another word you could use is “heartbreaking.” All the vendors there really do look like they got conned into thinking this was a good investment, their eyes lighting up at any and every potential buyer walking in, perhaps their first all day. And if it weren’t for the awkward location or the strange layout that tucks the basement nearly into oblivion, maybe they wouldn’t be.


Without the PATH, Shops at Aura won’t be changing any time soon. But at the very least, maybe the media attention the building is getting can let more people know to check the place out. Maybe the foot traffic could increase from (the estimated guess of) 50 to 100, or perhaps even more.

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