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Retail Profile: Robson Street in 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 well-known Robson Street in Vancouver, British Columbia, beginning at Hornby Street and continuing west to Jervis Street. Stay tuned for the Alberni Street ‘Luxury Zone’ Retail Profile which will be published in the upcoming days as well.

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

History of Robson Street

Robson Street was one of the first streets in Vancouver and was named in honour of John Robson, Premier of British Columbia from 1889-1892. Its commercial traditions date from 1895 when street car tracks were laid along Robson Street to Jervis Street. The 1940’s saw businesses begin to move west towards the 900 block of Robson, which became the market center, and very quickly they crossed Burrard Street to the buildings in the 1000 block. In the 1950’s and 60’s, Robson Street became known as Robsonstrasse, as the area became populated by European shopkeepers, most notably Germans, who arrived in Vancouver post World War II. Many European delicatessens, markets, bakeries and high fashion boutiques lined the street. Robson was bustling and becoming international in character, with the inexpensive housing attracting many new Canadians. In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, Robson Street’s unique retail character became threatened by redevelopment. Many of the older buildings were redeveloped, rents started to increase and several small merchants were forced to close their doors. In the 80’s and especially after Expo 86, international recognition of Robson Street continued to increase. The street was still home to smaller independent retailers, including Welch’s Candy, Murchie’s Coffee and Tea and a Busy Bee grocery store, to name a few while a few national and international chains began to appear like London Drugs and Starbucks, the latter of which infamously occupied the two corner properties kitty corner to one another at Robson and Thurlow.

Historical Photo a bus stop at Burrard & Robson in 1974
Historical Photo a bus stop at Burrard & Robson in 1974. Photo: BC Archives # CVA 69-19.19

Breaking Up Robson Street

The Photo Tour of Robson Street starts next to the Vancouver Art Gallery at the intersection of Hornby Street. We will continue westward along Robson Street until we reach Jervis Street where retail becomes sparser. For the purpose of this retail tour, we separated the street into six ‘tour zones’ based on the density of retailers in each area.

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

The above six encircled ‘tour zones’ along Robson Street include:

  • Zone 1: 900 Block of Robson Street (Hornby Street to Burrard Street)
  • Zone 2: Eastern-1000 Block of Robson Street
  • Zone 3: Mid-1000 Block of Robson Street
  • Zone 4: Intersection of Robson Street and Thurlow Street
  • Zone 5: 1100 Block of Robson Street (Bute Street to Thurlow Street)
  • Zone 6: 1200 Block of Robson Street (Jervis Street to Bute Street)

Retail Tour Zone 1: 900 Block of Robson Street (Hornby Street to Burrard Street)

To make it easier for our readers, we selected a prominent downtown landmark to begin the first tour zone. The Vancouver Art Gallery originally opened as a provincial courthouse and was re-purposed for museum use in the early 1980s. This landmark borders Hornby Street and Robson Street which provides a main source of foot traffic for the Robson Street zone.

Vancouver Art Gallery at Robson Street. Photo: City of Vancouver
900 Block of Robson Street (Between Hornby Street and Burrard Street) in Vancouver
900 Block of Robson Street (Between Hornby Street and Burrard Street) in Vancouver. Photo: Google Map and overlay by Retail Insider.

While Robson Street is pedestrian-only along the Vancouver Art Gallery, vehicular traffic resumes on the 900 block of Robson Street heading westward from Hornby Street toward Burrard Street. The retailers mentioned in Retail Insider for this block include:

Other retailers on the 900 block of Robson street include Ollie Quinn and MAC Cosmetics, and the block was also home to Tesla Motor’s second Canadian store which recently closed.

Retail Tour Zone 2: Eastern-1000 Block of Robson Street

Retailer density increases as the retail tour crosses Burrard Street to the 1000 block of Robson Street. As a result, we broke the 1000 block into three sections to give the block a little extra detail. As we left the previous tour zone on the 900 block of Robson Street, we crossed Burrard Street bringing us to the first of three sections of the 1000 block.

Eastern side of 1000 Block of Robson Street (starting at Burrard Street) in Vancouver
Eastern side of 1000 Block of Robson Street (starting at Burrard Street) in Vancouver. Photo: Google Map and overlay by Retail Insider.
L'Occitane, Swarovski and Ecco Shoes on Robson Street in Vancouver (June 2021)
L’Occitane, Swarovski and Ecco Shoes on Robson Street in Vancouver (June 2021). Photo: Lee Rivett.

There are several retailers featured in Retail Insider over the years, including:

Other select retailers on the eastern portion of the 1000 block of Robson included Sunglass Hut, La Vie en Rose, Ecco Shoes and Swarovski.

Former David's Tea location on Robson Street (June 2021)
Former David’s Tea location on Robson Street (June 2021). Photo: Lee Rivett.

We couldn’t help including the former DAVIDsTEA location on Robson which was loved by one and all as part of their difficult decision to close a total of 166 retail locations in Canada. Only the DAVIDsTEA location in Vancouver now operates at CF Pacific Centre as of 2021.

Retail Tour Zone 3: Middle of 1000 Block of Robson Street

Middle of the 1000 Block of Robson Street  in Vancouver
Middle of the 1000 Block of Robson Street in Vancouver. Photo: Google Map and overlay by Retail Insider.

The middle portion of the 1000 block of Robson street has several retailers featured in Retail Insider over the years, including:

Foot Locker and Sephora on Robson Street (June 2021).
Foot Locker and Sephora on Robson Street (June 2021). Photo: Lee Rivett.

Other select retailers on the middle portion of the 1000 block of Robson Street include Zara, Kiehl’s, Rocky Mountain Chocolate, Club Monaco, Miniso, Little Burgundy, Canadian Crafts and Aldo.

The building housing Indigo and other retailers at 1025 Robson Street was once a shopping centre called ‘Robson Galleria’. Image from the Vancouver Sun from November 27, 1980 via Newspapers.com

Retail Tour Zone 4: Intersection of Robson Street and Thurlow Street

Robson Street and Thurlow Street intersection in Vancouver (June 2021)
Banana Republic on Robson Street and Thurlow Street intersection in Vancouver (June 2021). Photo: Lee Rivett.
Robson Street and Thurlow Street intersection in Vancouver
Robson Street and Thurlow Street intersection in Vancouver. Photo: Google Map and overlay by Retail Insider.
Robson Street at Aritzia (June 2021)
Robson Street at Aritzia (June 2021). Photo: Lee Rivett

The intersection of Thurlow Street and Robson Street has always been a notable retail hub for the Robson community. Until the monolith Aritzia store opened on the corner, its prominent location was a Starbucks location which was across the street from another Starbucks location that still is open in 2021. The Vancouver-based women’s fashion Aritzia retailer has expanded several times at this location over the years. Artizia’s original 1,597 square foot Robson Street location grew by annexing the adjacent 3,565 square foot 1110 Robson Street retail space. In fall 2014, Aritzia annexed an adjacent 3,028 square foot storefront to open Vancouver’s first free-standing location for its house brand, Wilfred. Aritzia will take a further 4,837 square feet in the corner Deecorp Properties Ltd building, according to Artizia. As a result, Aritzia gained a prominent retail presence at the southwest corner of Robson Street and Thurlow Street

Sources told Retail Insider that Aritzia for a time had leased the then-under construction 1067 Robson Street building where Foot Locker now operates, and that Aritzia eventually decided to stay at its current corner location.

The other anchors at the intersection include Camper shoes and Banana Republic and the northeast corner is home to a brick building which has the remaining Starbucks location, Saje Natural Wellness, Blue Ruby Jewelery and Couturist.

Slightly east of the Banana Republic are a number of vacant retail spaces formerly home to BCBGMAXAZRIA, J.Crew and Tommy Hilfiger. Another unfortunate retailer on Thurlow just south of Aritzia was Vancouver-based RYU which opened on Thurlow Street off of Robson Street in the summer of 2016 and it was noted in Retail Insider’s CEO interview in March 2021 that the athletic brand announced several store closures to coincide with its restructuring. This location on Thurlow street was likely one of the unfortunate locations, similar to its counterpart at Park Royal Shopping Center (see the details at the Retail Tour Update: Park Royal Shopping Centre in West Vancouver).

Former RYU location on Thurlow Street (off Robson Street) in Vancouver.
Former RYU location on Thurlow Street (off Robson Street) in Vancouver. Photo: Lee Rivett

Retail Tour Zone 5: 1100 Block of Robson Street (Thurlow Street to Bute Street)

Beyond the intersection of Thurlow Street and Robson Street is the remainder of the 1100 block of Robson Street which is home to athletic, home furnishing and bakery retailers.

1100 block of Robson Street in Vancouver
1100 block of Robson Street in Vancouver. Photo: Google Map and overlay by Retail Insider.

This highly retailer-dense section of Robson Street has been featured by Retail insider over the years including:

French food concept bakery ‘Paulopened its first Canadian location in June 2021 and is owned by the Holder Group. The 1164 Robson Street space was formerly home to Joe Fresh and RW&CO in years past. The space spans 3,120 square feet and the property also features a 1,185-square-foot mezzanine level.

Paul is part of Holder Group which also owns Ladurée which has a franchised storefront across the street. The popular French luxury bakery and sweets maker opened its first Canadian location in March 2016 and expanded by opening a purposely built Pastry Laboratory in July 2018 for their Vancouver locations.

1100 block of Robson Street in Vancouver (June 2021)
1100 block of Robson Street in Vancouver (June 2021). Photo: Lee Rivett.

Other select retailers on the middle section of this block of Robson Street included Oomomoo, GNC, Mountain Warehouse, Plenty, Nike and Steve Madden.

Unfortunately, heading eastward on Robson Street has numerous retail locations vacant with the prominent retail tenant being London Drugs.

London Drugs on Robson Street in Vancouver (June 2021). Photo: Lee Rivett
Empty restaurant and retailer space on south-western end of Robson Street at Bute
Empty restaurant and retailer space on south-western end of Robson Street at Bute (June 2021). Photo: Lee Rivett.
The complex housing Muji and other retailers at 1125 Robson Street was once an upscale enclosed shopping centre called the ‘Robson Fashion Park’. The shopping centre housed a large Polo Ralph Lauren store as well as names such as Laurel, Alfred Sung and Benetton. Image from the Vancouver Province, May 29, 1986 via Newspapers.com

Retail Tour Zone 6: 1200 Block of Robson Street (Bute Street to Jervis Street)

1200 block of Robson Street in Vancouver
1200 block of Robson Street in Vancouver. Photo: Google Map and overlay by Retail Insider.

Southern Bute Street at Robson was pedestrian only at the Vancouver Luggage House (with the big Samsonite sign) with seating at Breka Bakery & Cafe.

Bute Street closed to vehicular traffic at Robson Street in Vancouver
Bute Street closed to vehicular traffic at Robson Street in Vancouver. Photo: Lee Rivett

To wrap up the Robson Street tour, the last tour zone along Robson Street is home to several restaurants as well as the home furnishings retailer CB2, which is Crate & Barrel’s sister brand geared towards young adults, has a retail location on the city block preceding our starting point.

CB2 on Robson Street in downtown Vancouver
CB2 on Robson Street in downtown Vancouver (June 2021). Photo: Lee Rivett.

We hope you enjoyed this update of Robson 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.

Article Author

Lee Rivetthttps://retail-insider.com
Lee Rivett, based in Vancouver, supports the digital distribution and technical backend operations of Retail Insider. This includes providing technical support for the editors during the digital publication cycle, streamlining virtual tools for the cross-country team and a variety of other duties which keeps the publication running smoothly.

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