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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Salvatore Ferragamo: Italian luxury retail brand spans 3,000 square feet which has operated on Robson Street since the 1980’s and was fully renovated in 2012.
- Peloton: New York City-based fitness company opened its 3,500 square foot main floor and a 1,500-square-foot basement space in November 2020.
- Lululemon: Canadian athleisure brand opened the Vancouver flagship store in 2014 and grew from its original 4,400-square-foot store by an additional 2,500 square feet in September 2020.
- Victoria’s Secret: The world’s second-largest Victoria’s Secret store opened in August 2013 stretching across 34,814 square feet of retail space previously home to an HMV store.
- ClearlyContacts.ca: Eyewear retailer opened on Robson Street spanning 1,320 square feet in fall 2013. It replaced T-shirt retailer Bang-On, which will move to a shop-in-store location within Used House of Vintage at 1008 Robson Street (2nd floor).
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.
There are several retailers featured in Retail Insider over the years, including:
- Lush Cosmetics: The all-natural beauty product retailer opened after months of renovations in August 2017. The renovated flagship measures 2,340 square feet, expanding from its previous shop by 1,000 square feet.
- Roots Canada: This Vancouver flagship for the Canadian outerwear retailer is one of the chain’s highest-selling stores and renovated/expanded its footprint in 2014.
- L’Occitane en Provence: French retailer of body, face, fragrances and home products based in Manosque, France opened their Robson location in September 2014 replacing Bebe which formerly occupied the space.
- Arc’teryx: North Vancouver-based outdoor clothing and sporting goods company opened their concept store in spring 2017 just off Robson on Burrard Street.
Other select retailers on the eastern portion of the 1000 block of Robson included Sunglass Hut, La Vie en Rose, Ecco Shoes and Swarovski.
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
The middle portion of the 1000 block of Robson street has several retailers featured in Retail Insider over the years, including:
- COS (‘Collection of Style’): H&M‘s upscale fashion brand opened a two-level flagship store spanning 9,000 square feet in late 2019.
- Browns Shoes: Canadian fashion footwear retailer opened its flagship location in July 2013.
- Foot Locker: American sportswear and footwear retailer opened its first Canadian Community Power Store on Robson Street in December 2020. The new 15,000-square-foot store in Vancouver offers a three-storey retail experience, including a second-floor activation space where events may be hosted with key brand partners and influencers for the local community (pending COVID-19 restrictions).
- Sephora: French cosmetics retailer opened a two-level retail store spanning 9,500 square feet in November 2014.
- Indigo Books & Music: Canadian bookstore chain subleased the former Forever 21’s two-level 29,000 square foot space in fall of 2018.
- October’s Very Own (OVO): World-renowned Canadian musical performer Drake’s fashion retail concept opened its Robson Street location in January 2019 in the 2,000 square foot retail space which was vacated by multi-brand menswear retailer Boys’Co.
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.
Retail Tour Zone 4: Intersection of Robson Street and Thurlow Street
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).
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.
This highly retailer-dense section of Robson Street has been featured by Retail insider over the years including:
- Eddie Bauer: American retailer opened its street-front location in spring 2016 replacing French Connection measuring about 3,150 square feet.
- Reigning Champ: Vancouver-based retailer, which is part of CYC Corporation, opened its 3,000-square-foot flagship space in March 2018. In June 2021, Aritzia announced it had acquired a 75% stake in Reigning Champ for approximately $63 million, with the remaining 25% equity interest purchased in three instalments through 2026.
- MUJI: Minimalist Japanese retailer opened its largest store outside of Asia in December 2017 on Robson Street (the downtown Toronto store is now the largest in Canada).
- Bailey Nelson: Australian eyewear retailer opened its first corporate Canadian store in spring 2017 on Robson Street.
French food concept bakery ‘Paul’ opened 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.
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.
Retail Tour Zone 6: 1200 Block of Robson Street (Bute Street to Jervis Street)
Southern Bute Street at Robson was pedestrian only at the Vancouver Luggage House (with the big Samsonite sign) with seating at Breka Bakery & Cafe.
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.
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.
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