Retail Insider continues its Photo Tour series to provide a window into retail hotspots across the country that may be continuing to grow and expand while dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This edition takes us to Sainte-Catherine Street in Montreal, Quebec, beginning at Crescent Street and continuing east to Aylmer Street.
History of Sainte-Catherine Street
This 11.2-kilometre-long street in Montreal is considered the “backbone of Downtown Montreal” and its history stretches back to the 1700s. The street was never formally planned so the growth of the street ebbed and flowed as needs arose rather than with a specific intention. By the end of the 1800s, the opening of several department stores solidified Sainte-Catherine Street as a key retail destination in Montreal — some of those businesses relocated from Old Montreal where buildings lacked space. Department stores left their mark on Sainte-Catherine Street over the years, including Eaton’s, Henry Morgan & Company, Ogilvy’s, Dupuis Freres, and Simpsons. Independent retailers and mid-sized retailers have also graced the street over the years. Jewellery stores such as Maison Birks have become part of the retail fabric of Sainte-Catherine Street.
Major retail building landmarks hosted by Sainte-Catherine Street include the Montreal Eaton Centre (including the former 1.1 million square foot Eaton department store), Les Cours Mont-Royal, Hudson’s Bay, and others. This tour visits the retailers from a street view — Retail Insider will not be entering any of the landmark retail buildings.
Breaking Up Sainte-Catherine Street
The Photo Tour starts at the intersection of Crescent Street, near the Apple store, and proceeds eastward ten blocks to the Hudson’s Bay store facing onto Phillips Square (at Aylmer Street). For the purpose of this retail tour, we separated the street into six ‘tour zones’ which generally span two city blocks each.
The above six purple-encircled ‘tour zones’ along Sainte-Catherine Street include:
- Zone 1: Crescent Street to Drummond Street
- Zone 2: Drummond Street to Peel Street
- Zone 3: Along Peel Street
- Zone 4: Peel Street to Mansfield Street
- Zone 5: Mansfield Street to Boulevard Robert-Bourassa
- Zone 6: Boulevard Robert-Bourassa to Aylmer Street/Place Phillips
Due to the density of retail in the first two ‘tour zones’, we have further divided those zones into parts based on each city block individually.
Retail Tour Zone 1: Crescent Street to Drummond Street
While we formally begin our tour at the intersection of Crescent Street and Sainte-Catherine Street West, we should point out that Point Zero, Rudsak, L’Intervalle, and Dr. Martens all have retail stores on the city block preceding our starting point.
Retail Tour Zone 1 (Block 1): Crescent Street to Rue de la Montagne
2016 brought news of New York City-based Thor Equities acquiring units 1325 and 1327 at 133 Sainte-Catherine St. W., taking up 18,550 square feet of office space on six levels.
Of the two units Thor Equities acquired, Danish footwear brand ECCO subsequently opened their larger flagship in August 2017 at 1327 1321 Sainte-Catherine St West, and Boutique TAG outerwear currently enjoys 2,600 square feet of retail space at 1325 1321 Sainte-Catherine St West. The acquisition resulted in Thor becoming neighbours with the Apple Store flagship located at 1321 Sainte-Catherine St West.
Other retailers on this retail block which have featured in Retail Insider include:
- Mackage: Upscale Montreal-based fashion brand replaced a 3,000-square-foot BCBG store with a new Mackage flagship store in 2018. At the time, it became the second Montreal location for the retailer and the fifth Mackage store in Canada.
- Adidas: This Adidas location had a ‘Neighbourhood Concept’ renovation announced in March 2017 and initial reveals of the concept were seen in Toronto in August 2017.
- Steve Madden: American footwear brand expanded its flagship location on this block by signing a 2,500-square-foot retail space lease at 1021 Sainte-Catherine Street West in August 2016.
- COS: H&M‘s upscale fashion brand opened this location in October 2015. COS, which stands for Collection of Style, launched in London in 2007. The brand’s price point is marginally higher than that of H&M, and it says that its designs are timeless, tactile, functional, classic, and modern.
Other select retailers in the first block of this ‘tour zone’ included Key West, Vans, and ALDO.
Arriving at Rue de la Montagne reveals the prolific Holt Renfrew Ogilvy that has been reported extensively in Retail Insider. The original Ogilvy’s department store was founded by the Ogilvy family in the 1800s and changed ownership several times over the years. Two major ownership shifts included of note in the Ogilvy ownership being purchased by Equidev (a Montreal development group) which performed major updates to the building in the 1980s that included developing a concession model housing 52 designer boutiques. The retailer changed owners a couple more times as decades passed and most recently was purchased in 2011 by Wittington Investments which also owns Holt Renfrew within its subsidiary company, Selfridges Group Limited.
The existing Montreal Holt Renfrew store, which had previously operated nearby at 1300 Sherbrooke Street West since 1937, closed in June 2020 to coincide with the opening of the expanded Holt Renfrew Ogilvy store on Ste-Catherine Street. The 250,000-square-foot Holt Renfrew Ogilvy store is one of the largest multi-brand luxury stores in North America and is the largest showcase of luxury brands in the Montreal market. All six retail levels were renovated and reopened in July 2020.
Retail Tour Zone 1 (Block 2): Rue de la Montagne to Drummond Street
Moving eastward from the glitter of Holt Renfrew Ogilvy, the next block begins with Ardene, which recently opened in 2019 and is belonging to the company’s large-format retail concept announced in August 2017.
The second block of this ‘tour zone’ includes a variety of retailers including Urban Outfitters, GNC General Nutrition Centre, The North Face, Sunglass Hut, Lululemon, Armani Exchange, and an Oakley Store.
Sandwiched between the Lululemon and Sunglass Hut is an Adidas location which had a ‘Neighbourhood Concept’ renovation announced in March 2017. While Retail Insider did not receive photos of the reopening, initial reveals of the concept were seen in Toronto in August 2017.
A stretch of vacant retail space before the Virgin Mobile at the corner was previously occupied in 2012 by Guess/Marciano and Buffalo.
Retail Tour Zone 2: Drummond Street to Peel Street
The second retail-dense ‘tour zone’ is the remaining stretch of Sainte-Catherine Street from Drummond Street onward to the main thoroughfare of Peel street.
As with the ‘Tour Zone 1’, the sheer density of the retailers in “Tour Zone 2” resulted in separating the tour into two parts based on city blocks.
Retail Tour Zone 2 (Block 1): Drummond Street to Stanley Street
Across Drummond Street from la Vie en Rose is footwear/sporting retailer, Reebok, which starts off this block of our ‘Tour Zone 2’.
Several retailers have shuttered on this retail block including retailers on either side of Browns Shoes. On its left, Montreal-based men’s fashion retailer Ernest, which filed for creditor protection in the fall of 2020, admitted at the time that it would likely close this location when the lease was up for renewal. On Browns Shoes’ right was Claire’s, which also recently shuttered.
Across the street is Italian women’s clothing and accessory brand Brandy Melville which had bounced back from the COVID-19 shutdowns as lengthy lineups were reported in September 2020. The brand attributed this partly due to the brand’s resurgence on social media as well as a lack of an online presence.
One of Retail Insider’s first well-read articles was related to the world’s second-largest Victoria’s Secret location, which replaced the 35,000+-square-foot Chapters bookstore in 2014.
Retail Tour Zone 2 (Block 2): Stanley Street to Peel Street
Wrapping up the second half of ‘Tour Zone 2’, the last city block before Peel Street is fully-loaded with retail brand names that are well recognized.
Crossing Stanley Street from Victoria Secret brings the retail tour to the 9,000-square-foot New York City-based fashion brand, Michael Kors. This replaced a La Senza store in the building to become the largest Michael Kors flagship in Canada, which opened in November 2019.
Reaching through the Retail Insider archives, this particular city block has been quite active over the years, including:
- Aritzia: The popular Vancouver-based multi-brand women’s fashion retailer opened a 10,000-square-foot flagship in May 2015 and was celebrated as its biggest Canadian store at the time of its opening. It replaced a former Mexx.
- Point Zero: Photos of this location were featured in December 2020 as the brand embarked on an aggressive expansion strategy.
- H&M: H&M’s 15,670-square-foot downtown Montreal flagship, located at 1100 Saint Catherine Street West (corner of Peel Street), opened in August of 2008. The flagship was closed in April 2016 for an overhaul and subsequent expansion and reopened in September 2016.
Other retailers on the block included Little Burgundy, Jack & Jones, Dynamite, and Garage
Retail Tour Zone 3: Along Peel Street
Named after a former Prime Minister of England, Peel Street commands several lofty retailers warranting a separate tour zone of its own.
Heading across Peel Street from H&M was the 8,000-square-foot Canada Goose flagship which opened to animal rights activist protests in November 2018. This was the Toronto-based company’s 11th store opening globally and its fourth in Canada.
Continuing further north on Peel Street revealed the 33,000-square-foot Harry Rosen store which originally opened in 1999. Renovations in 2014 added approximately 11,000 square feet making it the company’s second-largest, following its 54,000-square-foot Toronto flagship.
Harry Rosen is located at upscale Les Cours Mont Royal which was once a large hotel. Built in 1922, the then Mount Royal Hotel was the largest in the British Empire, with 1,100 rooms. In 1988, about 200,000 square feet of the hotel’s lower portion was converted to retail and the upstairs is dedicated to residential condominium apartments.
Other retailers along this stretch of Peel Street included Aerie, Iberica, L’Uomo, and Pandora.
The American Eagle store is closed for a refresh this week according to Retail Insider correspondent Maxime Frechette who was also celebrating his birthday. The Sainte-Catherine Street American Eagle spans three floors and is the second largest in the world after a Manhattan flagship store.
Retail Tour Zone 4: Peel Street to Mansfield Street
The Peel to Mansfield ‘tour zone’ was home to the iconic Simons department store as well as several other retailers which featured in Retail Insider over the years.
Since 1999, the OTH (Off The Hook) shop on Ste-Catherine Street West has developed partnerships with brands such as Vans, Adidas, Impact, and others. Its success on Ste-Catherine Street resulted in the opening of a 1,200 square foot OTH store within the updated William Gray Hotel that opened in August 2016.
Steve Madden, an American footwear brand, leased a 2,500-square-foot retail space in August 2016. The location used to be a Watch Station which closed in 2014.
An exclusive 2016 interview with Charles Fortin, son of the founder of fashion retailer, Tristan, remarked, “the design for the majority of our stores find their origins from our flagship store (1001 Sainte-Catherine St. in Montreal) which used to be an old bank. The store’s lozenge mesh, stone, and several other interesting design elements come from this inspiration”.
Other retailers on this first block of this ‘tour zone’ before crossing Metcalfe Street included Roots, VANS, Lids, Club Monaco, Lacoste, and Aldo.
Crossing Metcalfe Street, pedestrians reach the Quebec City-based, large-format fashion retailer La Maison Simons located at 977 Ste-Catherine Street West. The location was the first to open its standalone ‘mini-store’ in early 2019, which involved relocating the store’s home furnishings ‘Maison’ concept downstairs to a separate floor from the existing Simons store.
The 200,000-square-foot Simons building once housed the city’s Simpsons department store. Construction commenced in 1928 and finished in 1930, and the building was expanded in 1954. Simons occupies a portion of the mixed-use building which now also houses a cinema, boutiques, and restaurants.
In 1978 according to to a book written by former Simpsons Chairman G. Allan Burton, the Simpsons store on Sainte-Catherine Street had annual sales of about $90 million, possibly making it the top-selling store in Canada at the time. The Hudson’s Bay store nearby, spanning more than 650,000 square feet, had sales of about $65 million. In years past, department stores flourished on Sainte-Catherine Street and in many instances, women’s fashion offerings were more comprehensive than those found in Toronto. That is certainly no longer the case today.
Other retailers on this second block of this ‘tour zone’ includes Jean Coutu, Moores, a former BCBGMAXAZRIA, Lolë, and a former TELUS store.
Montréal-based lifestyle brand Lolë announced that it had reopened a store on the iconic Rue Sainte-Catherine in Montreal in November 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of all of its stores. We have been informed that since then, Rogers has leased the space which means Lolë will again leave the space and for good.
Retail Tour Zone 5: Mansfield Street to Boulevard Robert-Bourassa
This ‘tour zone’ begins by crossing Mansfield Street from Simons to Place Montreal Trust with Zara and Indigo. Across the street from Place Montreal Trust is NewLook, Camper, and Foot Locker.
Crossing McGill College Avenue reveals the standalone Banana Republic and GAP stores which are across the street from the Google Headquarters and Kiehl’s.
Montreal Eaton Centre saw a $200 million overhaul in 2019, within which landlord Ivanhoé Cambridge included an opening of a Time Out Market food concept. Major anchor tenants include French sports retailer Decathlon and large storefronts for retailers such as Sephora, the Gap, and Old Navy.
The shopping centre joined two adjacent shopping centres that both have unique histories. The former Complexe Les Ailes was created out of a former Eaton department store flagship store that once spanned nearly one million square feet. When Eaton closed in 1999, the lower floors of the building were converted into a shopping centre called ‘Complexe Les Ailes’, which was anchored by an impressive 225,000-square-foot Les Ailes de la Mode department store. After failing to capture shopping dollars, Les Ailes was downsized to a mere 75,000 square feet at the back-end of the Complexe Les Ailes — the chain continued to flounder and morphed into a discount concept before shuttering.
Popular Japanese fashion retailer Uniqlo opened a flagship in Centre Eaton de Montreal in October 2020. At more than 40,000 square feet, it is the largest in Canada.
Retail Tour Zone 6: Boulevard Robert-Bourassa to Aylmer Street/Place Phillips
The final retail tour zone is home to Montreal’s downtown Hudson’s Bay as well as the Promenades Cathedrale Boutiques and Maison Birks.
The Promenades Cathedrale Boutiques is located underneath the Anglican Christ Church Cathedral, and the 134,495-square-foot retail complex was constructed in 1987 with RÉSO (Montreal’s Underground City) connections underground to the iconic La Baie d’Hudson Building.
The Montreal Bay store was built between 1891 and 1964, with the oldest part of the store facing onto Ste-Catherine Street. It was built as an upscale Henry Morgan department store which catered to the carriage trade (Macleans in 1953 referred to it as “most courtly department-store keepers in Canada”). Morgan’s expanded into Ontario before going into decline and being acquired by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1960. In 1972 the Ste-Catherine Street Morgan’s store was converted to the current Hudson’s Bay store.
A recent proposal to the City of Montreal to modify the historic 655,000-square-foot downtown Hudson’s Bay flagship store could result in the building of a massive office tower along with a reduction in the footprint of the retail space within in the building. What would result is a real estate asset that would feature substantially more office space than retail space.
The proposal seeks permission to demolish the unattractive circa 1964 back-end of the Bay building facing onto Blv. Maisonneuve (intended at one time to become a 200,000-square-foot Saks Fifth Avenue) and replace it with a 500-foot-tall office tower with 25 floors. The total office space, including levels five to eight of the retail store as well as the new tower, would span 678,000 square feet. The retail space in the building would be downsized to five levels (basement up to level four) spanning about 295,000 square feet.
Iconic Montreal-based jewellery retailer Maison Birks rounds out our extensive retail photo tour of Sainte-Catherine Street in Montreal. The retailer completed its recent overhaul in June 2018 which ‘right-sized’ the retail store to only the main floor. A new Hôtel Birks opened later in 2018 and occupies the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th floors previously occupied by the retail store and offices. The hotel’s website mentions ‘the damaged 5th floor, which once housed Birks’ watch-making department, was entirely replaced with two crowning glass-enclosed floors, luminous rooms, and intimate balconies overlooking the city”.
We had a very interesting photo walk around Sainte-Catherine Street in Montreal and we hope you enjoyed coming along with us. Don’t forget to check out our other retail photo tours over the past few months. Thank you for taking this tour with us, and thank you Maxime Frechette for taking photos for this article.
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