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.
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.
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
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.
Retail Insider has covered the luxury retail developments within the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver over the years, including:
- Christian Dior: French fashion designer opened its first Canadian flagship location in July 2015 spanning about 9,800 square feet. The flagship features a separate men’s Dior Homme boutique with its own entrance.
- OMEGA: Canada’s only official OMEGA boutique opened in early 2010 in the hotel lobby. It was originally intended to be a four-month pop-up location; however, the successful boutique became permanent and subsequently has expanded to 2,300 square feet.
- Gucci: Italian fashion designer opened Canada’s second standalone Canadian store in 2006 spanning about 4,000 square feet on one level.
- St. John: Canada’s first upscale American womenswear label relocated from Dior’s current location to the Hornby Street location in April 2014.
- Louis Vuitton: Paris-based luxury brand opened its second Canadian standalone store in 1996 and in late 2010, it was expanded to 10,000 square feet, making it the first ‘Maison’ in Canada and Vuitton’s 12th Maison globally at the time.
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.
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.
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 Hermès, Graff and Patek Philippe:
- Hermès: French luxury brand opened the impressive flagship store in September 2019 spanning almost 5,000 square feet of retail space. In years past, Versus by Versace had a store there as well as Italian leather goods brand Furla — the most recent tenants were Bell Mobility and Montblanc.
- Graff: UK-based diamond retailer opened its first Canadian boutique in December 2018 spanning 575 square feet and is operated by Montreal-based jewellery retailer Birks.
- Patek Philippe: Swiss luxury watch retailer opened its first Canadian boutique in December 2018 spanning 575 square feet and is operated by Montreal-based jewellery retailer Birks.
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)
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.
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.
Retail Insider has covered almost every luxury retail opening on this street including:
- Tiffany & Co: Iconic New York City-based jewellery and accessory brand opened its first level spanning 4,700 square feet in the fall of 2006 and unveiled a second-level expansion in May 2017 bringing its total span to 9,762 square feet.
- Officine Panerai: Italian luxury watch manufacturer opened its boutique in September 2017 in retail space formerly occupied by footwear retailer Mephisto.
- Jaeger-LeCoultre: Swiss luxury timepiece brand retailer opened the first of two Canadian boutiques in Vancouver in September 2015.
- Lao Feng Xiang: China’s premier fine jewellery brand retailer opened its first Canadian location in February 2015.
- RIMOWA: High-quality German luggage manufacturer opened its second Canadian retail store in November 2013.
- Jimmy Choo: UK-based luxury footwear and accessory retailer opened its first freestanding location in May 2018 replacing Montreal-based leather goods and fashion retailer m0851.
- Montblanc: Swiss accessories retailer opened this Alberni Street location in 2019 after being displaced from its previous Burrard Street storefront in the spring of 2018 to make way for the new Hermes flagship.
- Coach: Next to the beginning of Alberni on Burrard is the upscale American fashion brand which reopened after renovations to unveil its ‘next generation’ flagship in July 2015.
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.
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:
- Oliver Peoples: Los Angeles-based luxury eyewear retailer opened its Alberni Street location in fall 2018.
- Van Cleef & Arpels: Paris-based luxury jewellery retailer unveiled a large two-level flagship retail space in December 2017 spanning more than 4,000 square feet.
- IWC Schaffhausen: Swiss watch retailer opened its Alberni Street location in December 2017.
- Hublot: LVMH-owned Swiss luxury timepiece retailer opened its first freestanding Canadian boutique in July 2017 spanning 2,800 square feet. The boutique is a franchise owned by a local operator.
- De Beers: London-based diamond retailer opened its first Canadian store on Alberni Street in October 2013.
- Tory Burch: New York City-based women’s clothing brand opened its third Canadian store over two levels on Alberni Street in October 2013 spanning over 3,000 square feet.
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.
Retail Tour Zone 4: Thurlow Street at Alberni Street
The last zone is Thurlow Street which intersects Alberni with a treasure-trove of luxury retailers which have been featured on Retail Insider, including:
- Burberry: British luxury fashion house opened on the ground floor of the Shangri-La Hotel in late 2008 spanning over 3000 square feet showcasing Burberry Prorsum, Burberry London and the brands luxe line of handbags, shoes, jewellery, fragrance and eyewear.
- Rolex: Swiss luxury watch retailer replaced a lounge at the Shangri-La Hotel in 2016 spanning 2,500 square feet.
- Blubird: Vancouver-based fashion retailer relocated to the 1100 block of Alberni in 2018, replacing Strellson.
- Prada: Italian luxury brand opened its 8,200 square foot Vancouver flagship in March 2016.
- Brunello Cucinelli: Italian luxury fashion referred to as the “King of Cashmere” opened its first Canadian location on Thurlow Street in November 2015.
- Saint Laurent Paris (aka ‘Yves Saint Laurent’): French luxury fashion brand opened its first Canadian location in July 2016 spanning two-levels and 4,800 square feet on Thurlow Street.
- Moncler: Italian luxury retailer opened its second free-standing Canadian location on Thurlow Street in December 2015.
- Off-White: Luxury streetwear retailer opened a two-level Vancouver flagship in April 2018 spanning 4,300 square feet in a rather unique location, being technically in a laneway between the 1000 blocks of Alberni Street and Robson Street.
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.
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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