“Save Garden City” with Mitch Goldhar

SmartCentres logoThe Walmart mall in the Garden City—Richmond, BC—would be one of Mitchell (Mitch) Goldhar’s SmartCentres. It wants to go by “The Centre at Garden City,” tapping the goodwill of the Garden City name for all its worth.

Naturally, we’d like balance in the benefits going to Walmart-SmartCentres and the Garden City Lands area, the mall’s location. Fortunately, the balanced recipe will make for a bigger and naturally sweeter pie. Instead of a bitter half-baked Walmart pie, it will be a wellness pie.

Foremost, it will serve the Garden City Lands area, but there will be far-reaching wellness benefits. There will also be economic ones, including tourism revenue, with a sure flow to the “Centre at Garden City” businesses after some early planning for it.

The buy-in for the balanced recipe would come from the top, from Mitch Goldhar. It would be both direct and indirect—through the values he instills in the group of people who work with him, with his firm but caring leadership, at SmartCentres.

interactive Save Garden City bumper stickerOf course, our goal is to “Save Garden City” with all that entails. Most of the almost 500 articles on this blog go into that, so we’ll leave it to you to fill out your background if need be.

We’ve looked at what can be possible in a recent article, “The Walmart mall is no natural viewscape.” Toward the end, there’s a change in colour that begins like this:

The mall developers have gone to great lengths to adapt their plans so that a nearby developer could make more money. If asked, they might also welcome the chance to conserve our legacies and serve our people. Let’s ask.

Mitchell Goldhar hockeySince the person to ask is Mitch Goldhar, let’s first see if we can get to know him.

Mitch Goldhar is a visionary with Jewish cultural values. In “Earth Awareness” on this blog, Richmond’s Howard Japolsky has expressed how he applies Jewish cultural values to Garden City values, gathering insight along the way, and it’s easy to picture Mitch embracing that sort of journey.

A fit 52-year-old sportsman, Mitch has been ranked as one of “The World’s 12 Most Eligible Billionaires.” That could go to a man’s head, but it is evident that Mitch is firmly comfortable in himself, little moved by praise or scorn.

Mitch plays sports such as recreational hockey and racquetball. In the 2013 Maccabiah Games in Israel, he competed successfully in tennis at the masters level.

A couple of years ago, in “Mr. SmartCentres, Mitch Goldhar, gives Canadians what they want” (Oct. 27, 2011) John Lorinc of The Globe and Mail wrote this:

The passion for sports aside, Goldhar mostly works—a lot. He once described his malls as “my children.” He immerses himself in the minutiae of each project. Sometimes, he’ll load up an RV and head out on the road, camping in Walmart parking lots, chatting with consumers and pretending to be an ordinary shopper. “We keep an eye on every community in the country,” he says. “It may sound crazy, but I relate very much to the average Canadian’s reality.”

In that article, Mitch gets to the heart of the strategy for discount malls that he developed twenty years ago with market research and grueling work that he treated as enlightening fun. He told the writer, “I’d found meaning, bringing fair prices to average Canadians.”


Three or four years ago, Mitch bought a Tel Aviv soccer team. He has given a lot through it, and it has given him a way to bring together his loves of sports, meaningful business, and heritage, as embodied by Israel. The team’s fortunes have improved in a range of ways, and it is the country’s 2013 champion.

Mich Goldhar in Maccabi locker roomIf you can find ten minutes, go to Canadian owner of Maccabi Tel Aviv (May 8, 2013) at Jerusalem Online. After viewing the video there, I feel I know Mitch on a first-name basis, which is why we’re calling him Mitch here, not “Goldhar.”

The interviewer asks Mitch if he knows that people call him a fryer, the Hebrew word for “sucker,” because he bought the Maccabi Tel Aviv soccer team when it was “on the brink of bankruptcy.” He laughingly says that, in a way, he likes being called a fryer because “everyone will have their guard down when they think they’re dealing with a fryer.”

She asks rather bluntly, “What are you doing here?” He says, “The main purpose . . . is to build a soccer club . . . that does things with a high standard in all respects.”

One of those “respects” is respect itself. Mitch says, “A proper celebration for a player who does something is to remember the hundred other people who made that possible.” Talking to his team as new champions, he mentions respect for one another and adds, “No matter how high we go, we always stay down on the ground.”

Mitch is asked about taking the whole team—soon after winning—to visit a former player in hospital. He says, “To forget him in that moment would be wrong.” The interviewer says, “You’re almost in tears.”

In his usual kind way, Mitch doesn’t correct the interviewer when she calls him an “illegible bachelor” (a single guy with unreadable handwriting). When prompted, the eligible bachelor (a prime target for husband-seekers) is clear that he doesn’t want to miss out on having a family.

Mitch Goldhar’s interview manner reminded me of someone else’s, and I eventually put my finger on it: Jean Vanier, founder of l’Arche (in this interview recently replayed on the radio).

Jean Vanier and Gwenda, l'Arche

Jean Vanier and Gwenda

traditional Garden City logoEach is successful in his life’s work. Each is engagingly soft-spoken, self-confident without arrogance. One gets the sense that each is empathically respectful to the core.

Let’s hope that Mitch will like us too. There’s a pie to look forward to. And together we can Save Garden City.


Update, Feb. 26, 2014. It is now exactly five months since this article was published on the blog. Unfortunately, the people who could have helped enable an all-around-win have not done so. Time is running out, and the evident effect is now likely to be a sad loss for all. This article gets a lot of readers, which means that the people who share in the loss will be all around the world. Some will learn enough from it that there will be a silver lining. Almost everything that goes wrong turns out for the better—as long as we take the approach that almost everything that goes wrong turns out for the better.

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