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Retail Profile: Alberni Street ‘Luxury Zone’ in Downtown Vancouver (Summer 2021)

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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 Alberni Street in Vancouver, British Columbia, beginning at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver and westward on Alberni Street until Thurlow Street. Be sure to check out our Retail Profile: Robson Street in Vancouver as well.

Alberni Street (Between Burrard Street and Thurlow) in Vancouver
Alberni Street (Between Burrard Street and Thurlow) in Vancouver. Photo: Google Map and overlay by Retail Insider.

History of Alberni Street

Alberni Street has a shorter history in comparison as it started out as a non-descript commercial street and transformed into a hub of high-end luxury retailers in the 2010s.

In the 1980s Alberni Street began catering to Japanese tourists with stores such as the OK Gift Shop and a small duty free store. In the 1990s two large duty free stores operated on the street for a brief time as well as several restaurants. The 1000 block of Alberni Street for a time was nicknamed “Little Tokyo”.

The luxury brand kick-off started in 1991 when Chanel opened a store at 755 Burrard Street alongside several smaller high-end stores that operated nearby. A Celine boutique operated next to Chanel in the 755 Burrard building for several years and across the street at 1005 Alberni Street, Collections International over the years had several small luxury brand boutiques that included Hermes, Fendi, Alfred Dunhill, Gold Pfeil, Nina Ricci and others. Vancouver-based Farideh French Imports operated a Valentino boutique at 723 Burrard Street for a time as well, and all the while Alberni Street was for the most part an afterthought.

In 1998, a significant decrease in Japanese shoppers resulted in some store closures in the area including a 19,000 square foot DFS Galleria duty free store at the southwest corner of Alberni and Thurlow Streets. The store was only open for two years and competed with a 35,000 square foot Nuance Group-operated duty free store on Alberni Street near Burrard Street.

Things began to change in 2008 when a Burberry store opened at the base of the Shangri La hotel at Alberni and Thurlow Streets — it was a sign that luxury would move westward along Alberni Street. In 2009, a Brooks Brothers store opened on the main floor of the then downsized Aldeasa duty free store on Alberni Street and Michaels crafts moved upstairs when the duty free store finally closed in 2012 amid litigation. In 2012, The Carlyle commercial complex at Alberni and Thurlow Streets (where DFS Galleria once operated) saw a significant redevelopment — a 7-Eleven store and a Dollar Tree store were kicked out and after a marble-clad overhaul, new tenants opened including De Beers, Prada, Hublot, Saint Laurent, Moncler and Off-White.

Across the street at 745 Thurlow Street, an unattractive building was demolished and replaced with an office tower housing luxury brands at its base including Brunello Cucinelli and a Versace store that will soon be replaced by Thom Browne. Other luxury brands also opened in the area as will be showcased below.

Breaking Up Alberni Street

The Photo Tour starts at the extreme western end of Robson street at the intersection of Jervis Street and proceeds eastward three blocks to Burrard Street. Turning northward on Burrard, the tour visits the luxury retailers in Fairmont Hotel Vancouver before continuing westward on Alberni Street to conclude at Thurlow Street. For the purpose of this retail tour, we separated the street into four ‘tour zones’ which generally span one city block each.

Retail Profile 'Tour Zones' for Alberni Street
Retail Profile ‘Tour Zones’ for Alberni Street. Photo: Google Map.

The above four encircled ‘tour zones’ along Robson Street and Alberni Street include:

  • Zone 1: Fairmont Hotel Vancouver
  • Zone 2: 1000 Block of Alberni Street (Eastern End)
  • Zone 3: 1000 Block of Alberni Street (Western End)
  • Zone 4: Thurlow Street at Alberni Street

Retail Tour Zone 1: Fairmont Hotel Vancouver

Fairmont Hotel Vancouver on Burrard Street and West Georgia in Vancouver (June 2021)
Fairmont Hotel Vancouver on Burrard Street and West Georgia in Vancouver (June 2021). Photo: Lee Rivett.
Fairmont Hotel Vancouver and surrounding area in Vancouver (near Alberni)
Fairmont Hotel Vancouver and surrounding area in Vancouver (near Alberni). Photo: Google Map and overlay by Retail Insider.

The landmark Fairmont Hotel Vancouver is where the Alberni Street “Luxury Zone” tour begins. The heritage exterior houses several luxury retailers on the ground level of the hotel which are respectfully incorporated into the building.

Plans to develop a railway hotel at the present site of Hotel Vancouver first emerged in the 1920s from Canadian Northern Railway. After construction was stalled in the 1930s Great Depression, it opened as the “Hotel Vancouver” in time to welcome Queen Elizabeth during her 1939 royal tour of Canada. The hotel has gone through a number of changes from the ownership and management perspective; however, Fairmont Hotels and Resorts sold the hotel to a Crown corporation pension fund (Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec) in 2007 but Fairmont still manages the hotel. In 2015, the property was sold to Larco Enterprise for $180 million — prior to that, rumour had it that an underground mall would connect the hotel to nearby CF Pacific Centre.

In preparation for the building’s 80th anniversary, the Hotel Vancouver underwent a C$12 million renovation of the hotel lobby, restaurant, and guest rooms from 2014 to 2018. This included reconfiguring the ground floor by moving the hotel’s check-in desks to allow for luxury retail on the ground floor.

Luxury retail corridor at Fairmont Hotel Vancouver (June 2021)
Luxury retail corridor at Fairmont Hotel Vancouver (June 2021) where the original hotel check-in counter was located. Photo: Lee Rivett.

Retail Insider has covered the luxury retail developments within the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver over the years, including:

Hotel Corridor from Luxury Retailer Space to Front Desk (June 2021)
Hotel Corridor from Luxury Retailer Space to Front Desk (June 2021). Photo: Lee Rivett

Across the street to the north from the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver runs West Georgia Street. Before heading over to Alberni Street, there are a number of luxury retailers along West Georgia as well. Looking northward from the steps of Fairmont Hotel Vancouver is Cathedral Place, which was home to Chopard and Black Goat Cashmere.

Black Goat and Chopard Boutiques on West Georgia Street in Vancouver (June 2021). Photo: Lee Rivett.

Local retailer GWC converted its retail space at the base of Cathedral Place at 915 W. Georgia Street into Canada’s first standalone Chopard boutique in fall 2017. Located in the same building was Vancouver-Based cashmere brand Black Goat Cashmere which opened a 1,000 square foot boutique and standalone store concept called The Coat Room in November 2017.

Hermes Vancouver. Photo: Trevor Brady.
Hermès Vancouver. Photo: Trevor Brady.

Pivoting westward from the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver brings us to the expansive frontage on West Georgia Street in the Burrard Building. Clustered together facing West Georgia Street was HermèsGraff and Patek Philippe:

To wrap up the West Georgia Street portion of the retail profile, the 1100 block was home to the Trump International Hotel which went bankrupt several months ago. Next to it are retail locations for Italian luxury brand Stefano Ricci, Vancouver-based fur retailer Snowflake and Equinox Fitness.

Retail Tour Zone 2: 1000 Block of Alberni Street (Eastern End)

Alberni Street at Burrard Street (June 2021)
Alberni Street at Burrard Street (June 2021). Photo: Lee Rivett.
Eastern end of 1000 block of Alberni Street in Vancouver
Eastern end of 1000 block of Alberni Street in Vancouver. Photo: Google Map and overlay by Retail Insider.

At the east end of Alberni Street (across the street from Fairmont Hotel Vancouver) is the former home of Hermès at 755 Burrard Street which still remains empty with windows papered over. Next door was Austrian hosiery brand Wolford which recently relocated in the same complex to a space recently vacated by Papyrus. Cartier will soon start construction on a large storefront in the former Hermès/Wolford spaces.

Former Hermès on Alberni Street at Burrard Street in Vancouver (June 2021)
Former Hermès on Alberni Street at Burrard Street in Vancouver (June 2021) –Richemont leased the space for a new Cartier store. Photo: Lee Rivett
Looking past the former Wolford and Hermès location at corner of Burrard Street and Alberni Street in Vancouver (June 2021). Photo: Lee Rivett

Continuing to the full glory of Alberni Street’s 1000 block, one is greeted by the prominent Tiffany & Co store that is an iconic landmark for the street. Once a non-descript city street and now the ‘Rodeo Drive’ of Vancouver, Alberni Street is the upper crust of luxury retail shopping in Vancouver.

Tiffany & Co. on Alberni Street in Vancouver (June 2021)
Tiffany & Co. on Alberni Street in Vancouver (June 2021). Photo: Lee Rivett.

Retail Insider has covered almost every luxury retail opening on this street including:

Other retailers on the street not featured by Retail Insider include Brooks Brothers and Vacheron Constantin.

Vancouver-based multi-brand luxury jeweller Montecristo is currently building its Alberni Street location in the restaurant space vacated by Italian Kitchen restaurant in 2017. It’s unknown when the store will open and staff at the Hastings Street Montecristo store say they’re not sure what the new concept will be.

Future MonteChristo location on Alberni Street in Vancouver (June 2021)
Future MonteChristo location on Alberni Street in Vancouver (June 2021). Photo: Lee Rivett.

Retail Tour Zone 3: 1000 Block of Alberni Street (Western End)

The western half of the 1000 block has been transformed over the years with new construction and plenty of new renovations. Some retailers include:

Western end of 1000 block of Alberni Street in Vancouver
Western end of 1000 block of Alberni Street in Vancouver. Photo: Google Map and overlay by Retail Insider.
Sidewalk view on Alberni Street passing Oliver Peoples, the passthru to TWG Tea Salon & Boutique and Van Cleef & Arpels
Sidewalk view on Alberni Street passing Oliver Peoples, the passthru to TWG Tea Salon & Boutique and Van Cleef & Arpels. Photo: Lee Rivett.
Western Portion of 1000 block of Alberni Street in Vancouver (June 2021)
Hublot, De Beers and Tory Burch on Alberni Street in Vancouver (June 2021). Photo: Lee Rivett
Van Cleef & Arpels on Alberni Street in Vancouver (June 2021)
Van Cleef & Arpels on Alberni Street in Vancouver (June 2021). Photo: Lee Rivett

An icon of the area was German womenswear brand Escada which struggled financially resulting in its resent closure on Alberni Street. Window blocking signage indicated ‘Coming Soon’ and extended into the neighbouring Blenz Coffeehouse which was also closed down; however, no hint of what retailer was coming and we’ll keep our eye on the space. A development application indicates that the podium of the office tower where Escada was once located will be expanded for new retail.

Former Escada location on Alberni Street at Thurlow Street in Vancouver (June 2021)
Former Escada location on Alberni Street at Thurlow Street in Vancouver (June 2021). Photo: Lee Rivett.

Retail Tour Zone 4: Thurlow Street at Alberni Street

Intersection of Thurlow and Alberni Street in Vancouver
Intersection of Thurlow and Alberni Street in Vancouver. Photo: Google Map and overlay by Retail Insider.
Prada, Saint Laurent and Moncler on Thurlow in Vancouver (June 2021)
Prada, Saint Laurent and Moncler on Thurlow in Vancouver (June 2021). Photo: Lee Rivett

The last zone is Thurlow Street which intersects Alberni with a treasure-trove of luxury retailers which have been featured on Retail Insider, including:

Brunello Cucinelli on Thurlow Street at Alberni Street in Vancouver (June 2021)
Brunello Cucinelli on Thurlow Street at Alberni Street in Vancouver (June 2021). Photo: Lee Rivett

Thom Browne: Luxury New York City-based fashion will open its second standalone Canadian storefront this spring in downtown Vancouver. Thom Browne will replace a Versace store that opened at 745 Thurlow Street in December of 2015.

Future Tom Browne location with construction signage just off of Alberni Street in Vancouver (June 2021). Formerly the location of Versace.
Future Thom Browne location with construction signage just off of Alberni Street in Vancouver (June 2021). Formerly the location of Versace. Photo: Lee Rivett
Exterior of Versace store in Vancouver. Photo: Montecristo Magazine
Former Exterior of Versace store in Vancouver to be replaced with a Thom Browne. Photo: Montecristo Magazine

We hope you enjoyed this update of Alberni Street in downtown Vancouver, B.C. and are always excited to see the changes at Canadian shopping centres. Don’t forget to check out our other retail photo tours over the past few months. Thank you for taking this tour with us.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Without further development Alberni Street seems to unfortunately be maxed out. I’m curious to see if any retailer will eventually replace Michael’s Arts and Crafts for a flagship-potential mostly second level store. Awkward access for foot traffic would likely come with lease discounts vs street level (whole unit)

    Vancouver also seems poised for another luxury node if everything touted about the Oakridge redevelopment pans out. It registered over $1 Billion in pre sales apparently.

    Still no word on luxury retailers for the Amazing Brentwood, but perhaps the intention all along is for a future development phase. Their website showcases renders of luxury stores and ‘world-class’ shopping in general.

    For a population of 3 million (Lower Mainland, BC) the region sure punches way above its weight class. I’m glad restrictions lift tomorrow (Canada Day) for almost all social activities. I imagine many brands will look to 2022 to see how viable expansion can be. By 2023, Vancouver, with all its large scale high-density development, will hopefully be a hot market for commercial leasing.

    • There’s potential for luxury retail to extend to the 1100 block of Alberni Street as some leases expire. There are some redevelopment plans that hopefully will happen. Unfortunately a luxury retail development at the northwest corner of W.Georgia and Burrard was cancelled and it would have included several major luxury brands and a US-based luxury department store was also proposed.

      A bit out of the way, a development on Thurlow Street south of Robson Street wants to secure some major luxury brands and it will be interesting to see if they succeed. If so, we could see luxury brands expand southward on Thurlow Street towards the new development.

      Oakridge Centre will be interesting to watch, as it could impact downtown similar to what we’re seeing in Toronto with the Yorkdale Shopping Centre vs. Bloor-Yorkville.

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