Atrocity of the Month

Big Box Development, Meadowlands of Ancaster

The Meadowlands of Ancaster, the epitome of sprawl, are helping usher in the end of suburbia.

By Trey Shaughnessy
Published April 14, 2005

Big Box Development, Meadowlands of Ancaster
Click on the image to see a larger version

This is the epitome of sprawl. The only good thing about it is that it can't get any worse than this. The Meadowlands are ushering in the end-times of suburbia. The most bizarre aspect is that this type of retailing is marketed to citizens as "convenient," when it couldn't be further from the truth.

The real truth is this type of retailing is most appealing to the businesses, not to the customers. These buildings are nothing more than cheap cinderblock, flat roof boxes with a Disneyesque façade carrying the store's "brand," built for a 25-year lifespan.

If one retailer doesn't renew the lease, then another façade is stapled up or retrofitted for the new retailer like the ridiculous Staples store at Kingfisher and Upper Wentworth that still resembles the former Chapters branded façade - except it now bears the Staples sign.

The parking lots are designed to cram the most cars as possible, and they sit mostly empty except for a few weekends in December. When you exit your car, it is like playing real-life "Frogger." When you finally reach the entrance, you dodge one more obstacle: the idling cars, blocking the entrance to you and everyone else.

Once inside you are greeted with latest fashion in anonymous merchandising: windowless cinderblock walls, sometimes covered with schlock banners announcing the latest sale; a cavernous ceiling exposing the dusty duct work, sprinklers and rafters, revealing itself to you like the frog you dissected in grade eight science class; a "greeter" who treats everyone like a shoplifter while they place a piece of tape on your bags; a zillion lights, each with a million-watt halogen light bulb that shocks everyone senseless; point-of-purchase stands, end-of-aisle displays, discount bins, and - my favourite - the shipping pallet wheeled out in the middle of the aisle with the top layer of shrink-wrap peeled back.

When did we prefer this type of retail? Better question is, how many people have shopped on LoSo, Concession, King East, King West, James North, James South, Waterdown, Dundas or Ottawa Street and wished they were shopping in The Meadowlands?

Once upon a time, goods were made in a factory, stored in a warehouse and then distributed to a neighbourhood retail store where customers could buy them. Now, the big box store - a glorified warehouse - has cut the neighbourhood store out of the distribution system. The big box forces customers assume the responsibility for distributing goods from the warehouse in their personal vehicles.

Once cheap oil runs out, how long will customers be willing to go on subsidizing distribution costs for these glorified warehouses?

Names have been blurred to protect the guilty
Names have been blurred to protect the guilty

Trey lives in Williamsville NY via Hamilton. He is a Marketing Manager for Tourism and Destination Marketing in the Buffalo-Niagara Metro.

His essays have appeared in The Energy Bulletin, Post Carbon Institute, Peak Oil Survival, and Tree Hugger.

And can't wait for the day he stops hearing "on facebook".


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By Moses (anonymous) | Posted August 16, 2007 at 09:28:14

You've used the word "Facade" 3 times in two paragraphs.

It's called a thesaurus. Use it.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted August 16, 2007 at 11:02:02

Open-face Blueberry Pie

In this pie, one cup of berries is cooked to form a syrup. The remaining three cups of berries are heated in this syrup just enough to turn the blueberries a midnight blue with overtones of purple. The filling is then spooned into a prebaked crust. If you've made the crust ahead, this pie comes together in minutes. By dessert time, the filling is set.

serving size

Serves 6.


Basic Flaky Pie Crust for a 9-inch pie 1 tablespoon egg white, lightly beaten 4 cups blueberries, rinsed and dried 1/2 liquid cup and two tablespoons water, divided 2 tablespoons cornstarch 1/2 cup sugar 2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice Pinch of salt 1 1/2 cups whipped cream (optional) preparation Make the crust: Remove the dough from the refrigerator. If neccessary, allow it to sit for about 10 minutes or until it is soft enough to roll. Using a pastry cloth and sleeve rubbed with flour or two sheetes of plastic wrap lightly sprinkled with flour, roll the dough 1/8 inch thick or less and large enough to cut a 13-inch circle. Use an expandable flan ring or a cardboard template and a sharp knife as a guide to cut out the circle. Transfer the dough to the pie pan, fold under the excess, and crimp the border using a fork or your fingers. Cover it loosely and refrigerate it for a minimum of 1 hour and a maximum of 24 hours.

Preheat the oven to 425°F at least 20 minutes before baking.

Line the pastry with parchment, pleating it as necessary so it fits into the pan, and fill it with rice or dried beans. Bake for 20 minutes. Carefully lift out the rice or beans with the parchment. With a fork, prick the bottom and sides, and bake 5-10 minutes, or until the crust is pale golden. Check after 3 minutes and prick any bubbles that may have formed.

Cool the crust on a rack for 3 minutes, so it is no longer piping hot, then brush the bottom and sides with the egg white.

Make the filling: Measure out 1 cup of the blueberries, choosing he softest ones. Place them in a medium saucepan together with the 1/2 cup water. Cover and bring them to a boil.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and the remaining 2 tablespoons of water. Set it aside.

When the water and blueberries have come to a boil, lower the heat and simmer, stirring constantly for 3 to 4 minutes or until the blueberries start to burst and the juices begin to thicken. Stirring constantly, add the cornstarch mixture, the sugar, lemon juice, and salt. Simmer for a minute or until the mixture becomes translucent. Immediately remove it from the heat and quickly fold in the remaining 3 cups of blueberries.

Spoon the mixture into the baked pie shell and allow to sit at room temperature for at least 2 hours before serving. When set, the berries will remain very juicy but will not flow out of the crust.

Just before serving, if desired, pipe or spread the whipped cream around the sides of the pie, leaving the center unadorned and brilliantly glistening.

Store: Room temperature, up to 2 days (without the whipped cream).

Note: The low amount of sugar in this pie maintains the tart freshness of the berries. Taste the berries before you begin. If they are very tart, increase the sugar by a few tablespoons.

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By Suburban Resident (anonymous) | Posted February 08, 2008 at 04:05:45

I couldn't disagree with you more. To me, the big box retailer has become a symbol of the new suburban, middle-class lifestyle. When I picture heavy urbanized areas (outside a central business district) such as downtown Hamilton, I picture run down old mom and pop shops. What I find great about these retailers is that they are clean, well kept, and have reasonable prices. I prefer not to pay to park, and lastly, these retail parks aren't infringing on our suburban homes. They are a safe distance away, but close enough to be convenient, and there is still plenty of room for green space and what not in Ancaster. I'm a Dundas resident and have almost never shopped in downtown Dundas because there is almost nothing there of use to me (not to mention you have to pay to park in a lot of places. I guess it’s a preference thing though.. and I hope this didn’t turn into a “me, the corporate cheerleader vs. you, the corporate basher” I just really don’t see a problem with them, on the contrary, I prefer them.

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By vaninham (anonymous) | Posted December 26, 2009 at 08:08:28

I agree with this article, although not as emphatically as you, the writer.

Trouble is we want our cake and want to eat it too: I want everything but I don't want to pay for it. Which is why I believe "mom and pop" shops are going the way of the dodo bird-they can't compete with these power centres.

The best we can do is support those smaller shops and buy local, buy fair trade and do our best to raise awareness in our own circles of influence.

That said, I fear that this article is wrong in assuming that everyone would prefer to shop LoSo, Ottawa or Westdale-people want convenience and they'll happily turn a blind eye to what is less than desirable. All the majority of people see is "oooh, convenient FOR ME". Forget the sweat shops, the exploitation of others in developing countries and back here in Canada, the high cost of cheap.

Oblivion is blissful, isn't it?

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By Hammer Spammer (anonymous) | Posted November 13, 2011 at 23:50:15

It really sounds like you had some bottled up anger and arbitrarily decided to direct it towards this development. Different types of markets have different advantages and disadvantages so variety isn't a bad thing. If you feel like shopping downtown, go downtown. If you'd rather shop at a mall, go to Limeridge. If you want to shop at a place like the meadolands, go there.

Funny note: It's 6 years later and that Staples still looks like a Chapters. If anything that's an argument FOR the generic buildings with disposable facades but really, does any of that matter? At least it looks like a relatively interesting building.

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