Holt Renfrew Vancouver Pacific Centre Flagship Marks 10 Years [Feature]

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Holt Renfrew’s Vancouver CF Pacific Centre flagship opened 10 years ago at 737 Dunsmuir Street. It replaced a considerably smaller 633 Granville Street location, a block south within the same retail complex. The new store, which recently annexed an additional 40,000 square feet of retail space, is nearing the completion of a major renovation that has added new departments, restaurants and, soon, an expanded collection of luxury shopping suites. 

Holt Renfrew entered Vancouver in 1975 with a three-level Pacific Centre store that was just under 50,000 square feet in size. At the time, it was Holt’s second-largest store — the Toronto flagship, which was then located at 144 Bloor Street West, was about 60,000 square feet over several levels. Holt’s operated about 20 boutique-like stores of a variety of sizes during that period, with some being less than 9,000 square feet. 

In its earlier days, the Pacific Centre Holt Renfrew store featured a small menswear area on the ground floor, with a handful of exclusive brands. Womenswear dominated much of the space which, in the early 1990’s, saw a ground floor expansion into the former trading floor of the Vancouver Stock Exchange in the adjacent 609 Granville Street building. A 700 square foot Tiffany & Co. shop-in-store opened in the expanded space in 1993 and a year later, menswear was expanded into a larger space on the store’s lower level, replacing women’s ‘bridge sportswear’ that occupied the space for more than a decade. 

As Vancouver grew in the 1990’s and could support more luxury retail, a number of prominent designers became housed in Vancouver’s Holt’s. In the spring of 1994, Giorgio Armani ‘A Milano Borgonuovo 21/Black Label’ collection gained a space in the store, in an area also accessible from the Four Seasons Hotel lobby. A number of other boutiques opened on the women’s floor, including Ungaro Parallele, Jil Sander, Prada, Calvin Klein and Donna Karan. In the mid 90’s, Hermès relocated its small 1005 Alberni Street shop-in-store at ‘Collections International‘ to a 1,000 square foot boutique in Holt’s ground floor accessories area.

Men’s footwear also became available in the early 1990’s, when Browns Shoes became the footwear concession for Holt’s in Canada (that arrangement lasted until early 2007). Prior to that, only a handful of Gucci men’s styles were available in the Vancouver store, carried at a small Gucci counter on the store’s main floor. 

In the early 2000’s, the small store saw another relatively minor expansion, which involved creating retail space from part of the 3rd level office floor of the adjacent 609 Granville Street tower. The new women’s contemporary sportswear department was accessed via a ramp from the second level women’s floor, as the floors didn’t exactly line up. That expansion brought the store to about 68,000 square feet over three levels. 

Sales were strong in 2005 (WWD noted sales were between $60-70 million annually during that time) and when an opportunity came to build a substantially larger Vancouver store, Holt Renfrew worked with landlord Cadillac Fairview to take over the entire ‘Pacific Centre North’ building for a new Holt’s flagship. Pacific Centre North featured a lower-level food court, a dramatic atrium with a fountain, and a collection of retailers that included Eddie Bauer and Old Navy. Building the new Holt’s involved displacing retailers and relocating the mall’s food court a block south in the same complex. 

Following an extensive $50 million construction project, Holt Renfrew unveiled its impressive new Janson Goldstein-designed Vancouver flagship on May 31, 2007. The 137,000 square foot store boasted several entrances, including a 737 Dunsmuir Street main entrance as well as doorways onto Granville Street, Howe Street, and within Pacific Centre. The new store also featured a corner facade — something lacking at the former location, not to mention at the Bloor Street flagship. Vancouver’s Holt’s was now almost as large as the Toronto flagship, and was now also considerably larger than the Montreal Sherbrooke Street West store. 

At first, the massive new Holt Renfrew store overwhelmed some Vancouver shoppers — the store was bright and airy and featured a central atrium, spa, concierge services, personal shopping suites and valet parking. The previous location was more intimate in scope, featuring a series of intimate boutiques with warm materials such as pebble and hardwood floors. While sales didn’t immediately take off, the new store eventually saw annual sales numbers grow more than twice that of the previous location. 

The new store included a bright cosmetics department with Canada’s first Shu Uemura cosmetics counter, as well as an exclusive ‘colour studio’ unlike anything seen in Canada at the time. Accessories and jewellery were expanded significantly, with Tiffany & Co. opening a 1,300 square foot concession, and Louis Vuitton gaining a considerably larger space. Menswear was substantially expanded onto its own floor downstairs, featuring an expanded footwear offering, separate accessories and fragrance areas, and boutiques for designers such as Dolce & Gabbana, Prada, Tom Ford and Ralph Lauren Purple Label. The women’s floor upstairs debuted 600 square foot boutiques for Akris, Giorgio Armani Black Label, Gucci, Prada, Michael Kors, Marni, Dolce & Gabbana and Chanel — the Chanel boutique originally carried only leather goods and accessories, and it was expanded to carry ready-to-wear in the fall of 2010 when Chanel’s freestanding Vancouver store was shuttered. 

An impressive 58,000 square feet of Greek marble flooring covered much of the new store, with mosaic tiling in cosmetics, and reclaimed distressed wood flooring in the women’s contemporary sportswear department on the women’s floor. Millwork reportedly cost $12 million. The store’s central atrium became a focal point, featuring a 60-foot high skylight diffused with a white grid. The store’s facade featured ‘pillowed’ glass that created a bubble-wrap effect, as well as 9,000 square feet of white Italian marble. 

More recently, Holt’s Vancouver expanded its flagship space again by taking over about 40,000 square feet of retail space formerly occupied by sports retailers Sport Chek and Atmosphere. Holt Renfrew is now in the process of building out that space — in September of 2016, it debuted an expanded accessories hall on the main floor, followed by a new restaurant and men’s floor downstairs (the men’s floor features boutiques for Berluti fashions and Christian Louboutin footwear, among others). In February of this year, an 8,500 square foot shoe hall was revealed upstairs, featuring an expanded assortment and nine designer brand shop-in-stores. French bakery/restaurant Ladurée opened an 800 square foot café adjacent to the shoe area soon after. 

Renovations to Vancouver’s 188,000 square foot Holt Renfrew continue and, soon, a new 7,000 square foot personal shopping area, complete with a VIP ‘Apartment’, will be unveiled on the store’s uppermost level — the space was originally earmarked to be a restaurant when the store opened ten years ago, but because of zoning oversights, it remained an area for staff and storage uses until recently. 

Article Author

Craig Patterson
Craig Patterson
Located in Toronto, Craig is the Publisher & CEO of Retail Insider Media Ltd. He is also a retail analyst and consultant, Advisor at the University of Alberta School Centre for Cities and Communities in Edmonton, former lawyer and a public speaker. He has studied the Canadian retail landscape for over 25 years and he holds Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Laws Degrees.

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