Retail in Montreal: Downtown Core, Royalmount and Neighbourhood Discussion [Podcast]

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Retail Insider’s Craig Patterson talks about his recent trip to see retail in Montreal. The conversation with Lee includes a discussion on what’s being seen downtown including vacancies on Ste-Catherine Street as well as the city’s amazing food halls. Craig also visited the Royalmount project which is set to open next year, and toured other areas including the city’s Gay Village.

The Weekly podcast by Retail Insider Canada is available on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn, Google Play, or through our dedicated RSS feed for Overcast and other podcast players. Also check out our The Interview Series podcast where Craig interviews guests from across the Canadian retail landscape as part of the The Retail Insider Podcast Network.

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Transcript

Announcer 0:00
This is a Retail Insider PodCast. You’re listening to “The Weekly”.

Lee Rivett 0:08
Welcome to this week’s episode of “The Weekly” by Retail Insider. I’m Lee Rivett and I’m joined with the owner and publisher of Retail Insider Media, Craig Patterson, to discuss this week’s most read articles on retail-insider.com. So thanks for joining me, Craig!

Craig Patterson 0:22
Hello, everyone.

Lee Rivett 0:23
Now Craig and I were both traveling over the last couple of weeks. I was in third world countries without a lot of retail – so that’s not as relevant for this conversation. But Craig sashayed off to Montreal and was able to visit a number of retail locations there that we wanted to cover during this podcast. So Craig, where would you like to start?

Craig Patterson 0:41
Yes, yes. So hello, everyone. I had a great little trip to Montreal. I was there. I was there for a few days. And it was definitely mixed. I was really impressed with some of the stuff that I saw, I got to tour Ste. Catherine Street, I got to take a tour with executives from Carbonleo of the Royalmount project. And I got to look at a few neighborhoods in the area as well. So we can do a quick little run through some of the observations in Montreal, which was a wonderful time because the weather was great as well.

Lee Rivett 1:06
Perfect. Well, let’s start out with Ste. Catherine Street. And just for our listeners information, we do have a couple of photo tours of Ste. Catherine Street in Montreal about a year ago. So if you want a little bit of like photo reference, or maps of the area that we’re going to be talking about, I’ll include it in the show notes. But, Craig, tell us about where you stayed and what you thought posting Catherine Street?

Craig Patterson 1:27
Yeah, yeah, I stayed actually at a really interesting residence just near Holt Renfrew Ogilvy, which is on the west side of the main commercial strip of Ste. Catherine Street. So I got to walk up and down Ste. Catherine Street a few times (this would be Ste. Catherine Street West technically), one of those things actually off the bat that was a little bit concerning, whereas the number of retail vacancies on the street. I was got to do a bit of a tour with Maxine for shad, who’s wonderful Montreal correspondent with Retail Insider, he was pointing out some of the retailers that had shut down quite recently, including I think, an Aldo store that had shut down the day before we were going for that walk. So kind of a little bit concerning. I mean, this is obviously an opportunity for new retailers to be able to come into Ste. Catherine Street. But at the same time, I were called Eva Freed actually formally at the Montreal Gazette on social media also pointing out that there was a particular block nearby near the Holt Renfrew Ogilvy, which I think only had one business on it and the rest had shut down. So yeah, definitely, there’s going to need to be some new tenants put into various parts of Ste. Catherine Street. Part of the reason for that could be construction as it continues to progress along, there is a multi year upgrading of the street, which will include a new public realm. What we’re seeing so far is quite good in terms of the plans and what’s already been finished. But this is going to be disruptive to the street.

Lee Rivett 2:43
And there’s quite a bit of construction going on there. Is it going as expected or is there issues with the construction as well?

Craig Patterson 2:50
Construction isn’t quite as what was expected initially where they were going to have heated sidewalks and they were going to have garbage that would be sucked down into the ground, it would be done through technology. I guess the city for budget reasons ended up not making that full investment, which is I think, really too bad because this is the future of Montreal we’re dealing with here. But unfortunately, economics have to come into play and money isn’t unlimited.

Lee Rivett 3:13
Fair enough. And what about Peel Street? You went there too, right?

Craig Patterson 3:16
Yeah, I got to meet with the team from the Marine group. Wonderful people there. We were looking at Peel Street and what’s happening there. So they’ve got a retail space for lease which was most recently occupied by an American Eagle store.

Lee Rivett 3:27
When isn’t other things happening as far as activities on Peel Street as well?

Craig Patterson 3:31
Peel Street, it’s going to be great. The Grand Prix is coming in a few weeks and that’s going to be shut down. They’re already starting to set up for things. So really, Peel Street becomes a place that sits quite vibrant jewelry store, Mejuri, recently opened on Peel Street, which is encouraging. It’s across from the Harry Rosen store. And I believe I was talking to Sheldon Mintzberg of Marine Group who was explaining how eventually the there’s some construction that’s going to be happening on Peel Street and a bit of a boulevard put in in terms of trees and upgraded landscaping. It sounds like it’s going to be quite lovely. So I’m excited for the public realm. I really do think Montreal does a better job than Toronto with its public realm. And same thing with Vancouver is does a better job overall. Peel Street is coming to its own as well.

Lee Rivett 4:15
Awesome. And I think you went to a couple of food halls as well if I’m not mistaken.

Craig Patterson 4:20
I had an opportunity with Maxime to check out some food halls. We went to the “Time Out” food hall which is located at the Montreal Eaton Center. It had techno music playing it was really busy and vibrant. Lots of people were there. We had some really great food. I had this Portuguese chicken caesar salad and he had some Portuguese chicken poutine anyways, it was terrific. I forget the name of the place we went to. But we also got to check out (I was full at that point. I couldn’t eat any more) the food experience at Place Ville Marie, which also had a like a big almost techno party happening because it was a Thursday night and this is something that happens weekly, I guess at least when the weather is better. So that was quite neat to see also the C2 conference was on so there’s lots of people in Montreal this week. And we checked out the food hall called Le Central which is a bit more authentic. The stalls are not quite as uniform I guess you would say is that the other two food halls but it’s restaurants from the city that have set up and anyways, I everything just looked fabulous. I really enjoyed the vibrancy of downtown Montreal in its food halls.

Lee Rivett 5:20
Sounds yummy. Is there any other updates from the luxury retailer perspective that you had as well?

Craig Patterson 5:26
So closer to Holt Renfrew Ogilvy. I checked out some of the retail there Rue de la Montagne has is become a bit of an upscale Street. It’s got a Chateau d’Ivoire jewelry store. Construction is almost finished it was as was a new build. It looks almost like an ivory house or palace wherever you want to call it which will be the translation into English. I didn’t go inside but it looks like a very lovely store. It’s the it’s one of the most prestigious jewelry retailers in Canada. I think I noticed some stores like All Saints had closed on the stretch. Montblanc, the expensive pens and jewelry is still there. Tiffany has a store at the Ritz hotel right at the corner of mountain and Sherbrooke Street. Now my understanding is that Tiffany will be closing right around the time into next year when the royal mount project opens because royal mount has confirmed about a 5000 square foot Tiffany store and I wrote about that a few months ago. So it’s looking like there won’t really have a will any luxury retail actually on Sherbrooke street eventually, when that Tiffany store closes and also in the Ritz. There was a pop up for Christian Louboutin shoe store, which is interesting because there’s also a Christian Louboutin down at Holt Renfrew Ogilvy. There separate shops for men and women on the respective men and men’s and women’s floors within that store, but nevertheless, the Ritz is is quite a prestigious address in Montreal and on Sherbrooke street. So you know, we’ve got some prestige there and then I took a little walk around Sherbrooke Street in the 1980s and even into the 1990s there were luxury retailers on the south side of that street. And most of them are gone. Unfortunately the the former Cartier store that was in Montreal in the 80s the stairs have been destroyed in front of it it was this bowed facade kind of curved facade with this marble, almost like a little jewel box but over the years there’s been really no retail tenants there and the building has fallen into disrepair and it was quite sad to see the stairs broken and chopped down into nothing because last time I’d had to look up there and 2019 the stairs were intact but I remember they were cracked and I have some photos of it as well. So you know wear and tear during the pandemic or whenever that situation took place.

Lee Rivett 7:46
So sorry to hear about like history disappearing there. But did you get into any of the department stores while you’re there as well?

Craig Patterson 7:53
Had a chance to go further down Ste. Catherine Street and check out Lamaze on Simon’s I bought lots of stuff there. I gotta tell you the selection of things like shorts, T shirts and tank tops and that are quite fashionable and underwear for men (I’m just speaking for menswear) is tremendous. At Simon’s the store itself could use a renovation, I would say it’s just not up to the standard – of in terms of the interior – of the newer stores that you would see such as you know, Park Royal and West Vancouver, downtown Calgary, Londonderry and Edmonton. You know, those stories are a little more architecturally interesting because they’re newer and they were designed by amazing architects and built by great builders. So at some point, I’m sure that downtown Montreal store hopefully we’ll be getting a few updates just to make it a bit more dramatic. Because, again, the store is actually great in terms of its product. It’s just, you know, it doesn’t quite look the same as the other ones, but I can’t fault Simon’s at the same time, it’s an expensive thing to do for renovation. The store is probably among the top three in the chain. If not maybe the top one in sales. I’m not sure I don’t have insight into that recently.

La Maison Simons
La Maison Simons, 977 Saint-Catherine St W, Montreal (Image: Dustin Fuhs)

Lee Rivett 8:53
It is great that Simon’s busy there. But for Ste. Catharines generally, is it busy or is it more of a ghost town like some of the other retail streets have turned into unfortunately after COVID?

Craig Patterson 9:05
Ste. Catherine Street generally was really busy. The weather was beautiful one day this there on I think Sunday it was 30 degrees but just packed with people It felt busier than Toronto actually. So that shocked me. I went to the Montreal Eaton center. Quite a few vacancies on the upper level there but at some point there’ll be built in as well. So it’s the center was redeveloped and emerged into one larger shopping center. And there’ll be a big Nike store opening there. Uniqlo opened a couple of years ago its biggest store in Canada and Browns has a B2 store in there which is absolutely gorgeous. To Decathalon is in there. There’s a Lululemon pop up store in there which I don’t think a sticking around for at least it’s probably closing next year but so yeah, very, very interesting tour of the Eaton center as well.

Lee Rivett 9:57
When I know that with Hudson Bay, it had downsize a little bit. Did you have a chance to go take a look at how the new right size downsized Hudson Bay looks at this point?

Craig Patterson 10:06
What is that 685 Just by my memory says Ste. Catherine Street West. It’s about a 655,000 square foot department store. Eventually, the plans are anyways to put an office tower at the back of it and redevelop and maintain the heritage facade but to build about a 300,000 square foot Hudson’s Bay store whether it’s currently 655,000 and adding in a big terrace on the roof anyways, it’s this big redevelopment that we’ve reported on Retail Insider. So I had an opportunity with Maxine, we snuck upstairs to some of the shuttered floors. So we were at level six and seven, we got to see an old restaurant and an old buffet and the kitchen and an old furniture floor. And it was neat just to wander around and check out these areas of Hudson’s Bay which had shut, it’s really kind of disheartening to see a big flagship store like this, which ones had a really big restaurant in it, I’d never been up there before. It must have been, I don’t know, 20,000 square feet or more like this huge food experience. And that was actually what we remember from those department stores back in the day when they were really a place for people to come into a draw. And clearly this Hudson’s Bay store, which had been a Morgans store before that until I think 1972 was an experiential store. So it was interesting to see some of the history and what the store looked like in the past, recognizing that department stores in North America have definitely lost their way including Hudson’s Bay, and are no longer those same experiences in terms of food and beverage that they were before. So I got to really enjoy seeing that if anyone wants to look at my Instagram, I’ve got a section of Instagram archive stories that includes one on Montreal, and I take a tour in there. So have a peek if you are so inclined, because the public is not allowed up there. So you’re not gonna be able to see it yourself unless you have a friend who is able to get up there for you. So check it out there.

Lee Rivett 11:56
Well, let’s hop into Royalmount because I know that was a very exciting project for you. We reported on it in the past, we can have that in our show notes as well. But to refresh my memory were in Montreal is Royalmont?

Craig Patterson 12:10
Kind of in the middle of Montreal Island, technically, the land is Town of Mount Royal, this is going to be a really exciting project, I think it’s scheduled to open around August of 2024. So a bit over a year from now, you know all things working out with construction. So cross fingers, because I really want to go to this opening. I’m so excited, I had to look at some of the more tenants that are becoming and I’m not going to announce them publicly out of respect for Carbonleo, the landlord or this building it. But there’s more confirmed tenants in there. But the ones we can talk about because it’s been reported and announced is the new Rinnai Beauty Hall. I think I pronounced that right, hopefully, really interesting beauty experience that’s going to be brought in there but about 36,000 square feet. I don’t think there’s anything like it in a shopping center in North America currently. So that I found to be quite interesting. They are bringing in an aquarium, the freeing in all kinds of restaurants, food and beverage where you’re big and small, there’s going to be a food hall. Lots of outdoor patio opportunities they’re going to have in this outdoor plaza. Then the indoor area of royal mount, say where the luxury retailers are and other retailers area is going to have these massively dramatic glass ceilings, which I think are really exciting. So it’s just going to look beautiful. I’m very, very excited. I cannot wait to see this project when it is done. It is one of the most exciting retail projects, I think in Canadian history. And yeah, he also Best of luck to everyone at Carbonleo. Anyone doing construction everyone there? People doing leasing? I cannot wait to see this to be done. And the impact on downtown, of course, could be a little bit profound. I mean, we’ve talked about this before, I don’t have to go into details. But in terms of the high end retailers we’re seeing at Royalmount, I think there could be a bit of an impact downtown Montreal. And specifically, I think Holt Renfrew Ogilvy, because some of the luxury tenants that I saw on the floor plan, and some that haven’t already been announced are also at Holt Renfrew Ogilvy. So there’ll be a bit of a battle of the downtown versus Royalmount, kind of like what we see with Bloor-Yorkville and Yorkdale in Toronto, so I’ll leave it at that. But I’m just so excited for this Royalmount project after my tour, I gotta say thank you to Michael and the team there for taking me around. And it was definitely one of the highlights of my trip, as well as the spring so far.

Lee Rivett 14:22
To round out the podcast here, can you talk a little bit about your neighborhood retail that you were able to kind of wander through and see? We talked about the mega projects and neighborhoods but what about the small neighborhood ones?

Craig Patterson 14:34
Montreal is such a wonderful city. It’s got these high density neighborhoods with these, you know, triplex or kind of apartment buildings, but they all have these entrances. Sometimes they have these winding stairs. I climbed up some of these staircases and Dear God, they can be precarious, so I’m surprised we don’t hear more deaths. Perhaps people falling down the stairs. I’m sure it happens. But the commercial around these neighborhoods is just terrific. There’s lots of local retailers. Again, Montreal just has this wonderful urban experience that you don’t really see in Western Canada, I find in the cities because because there are newer and see these older eastern cities, I think just have this amazing urban fabric that you don’t see in the West. And I just love it, I had a chance to I stayed with a friend for the last two days near the Gay Village in Montreal, and which is it’s probably maybe the best one in North America. Honestly, I can’t say I haven’t been to all of them. But I’ve traveled around over the years. But it’s got to be close to being the best. It’s quite long. Lots of interesting businesses and restaurants. But also there’s an issue with homelessness and drug use, which is quite unfortunate. And part of that is because social services have been moved to the neighborhood. I think that could include a safe injection site, I was speaking to some people, but my french isn’t the best and no accents. But definitely social services are partly being blamed for that. And I can even say I live in Bloor Yorkville in Toronto. And we’ve got a respite center and another things and that’s led to an increase in crime in the area. And, and I say that as someone quite knowledgeable with this, I used to work at Covenant House and I know Covenant House definitely had an impact on the crime rate in the areas in Vancouver where the shelters are. So it is what it is. And I’ll call it out and stand by what I say because that is the situation and that is unfortunate for the village there is that this this could pose a bit of a longer term problem for the area just given the vagrancy that we’re seeing in the area around drug use and you know, other issues that we have with mental illness which unfortunately is part of our society so but nevertheless it’s still an incredible place to visit for those that are so inclined check out the Montreal Gay Village and pride should be coming up I don’t actually know when it is but it’s it’s all in the summer as it is with every city pretty much so and that’s pretty much what I’ll do to wrap up my little tour of Montreal. I absolutely loved it. I can’t wait to go back.

Lee Rivett 16:43
Nice. Thank you for just going through your trip. It wasn’t necessarily an article that was very popular, but we wanted to highlight it for this podcast. So thanks Craig for chatting going through it with me and hopefully chat with you next week.

Craig Patterson 16:55
Thank you so much everyone for listening here today. And thank you Lee for chatting. Take care and bye for now.

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