Granville Street Strip to See Retail Resurgence

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*An earlier version of this story indicated that co-working company WeWork was no longer moving into the upper levels of downtown Vancouver’s Hudson’s Bay store. We have since learned that this information is incorrect, and we retract that part of this story. Our sincerest apologies, as we endeavour to report accurately and in this instance, our sources were unfortunately incorrect. 

Downtown Vancouver’s Granville Street strip is in a state of transition that is adding a range of uses beyond the typical nightclubs that characterize it as the city’s ‘Entertainment District’. New and edgy retailers are said to be negotiating leases in the area, nightclubs are expanding service to include lunch and dinner, and new co-working spaces will add vibrancy to the area as Vancouver’s core continues to densify, and gentrify. 

Charles Gauthier, President/CEO of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association, says that the wheels are in motion for further positive changes to the 800 and 900 blocks of Granville Street which are located immediately south of Robson Street. Change has been gradual since the year 2009, when the street saw a cosmetic overhaul in anticipation of the 2010 Winter Olympics. In September of 2015, Nordstrom opened a 230,000 square foot flagship at CF Pacific Centre on Granville Street’s 700-block, which has helped shift the city’s retail centre eastward from the Robson Street strip, which has dominated for decades. Nordstrom, as well as nearby Hudson’s Bay and Holt Renfrew are driving foot traffic to the area, not to mention money — designer-heavy Nordstrom is said to be one of the top locations in the chain with sales of well over $200-million annually, while Holt Renfrew on the 500-block is said to do about $400-million in sales annually. 

Granville Street might be known for its boisterous nightclubs, though things are certainly changing. Mr. Gauthier noted that several of the street’s ‘liquor-primary’ establishments such as nightclubs, recognizing the value of time and real estate, have been expanding their hours to include lunch and dinner service during the day. Such food and beverage offerings will act to further add vibrancy to the street with a potential snowball effect that could see further improvements to the area, including new tenants. 

Downtown Vancouver’s office vacancy rates are at record lows, and Mr. Gauthier explained that there won’t be any new office towers ready for occupancy in the area until around 2021 or 2022. Co-working space company Spaces has secured 68,000 square feet in the former Tom Lee Music Building at 929 Granville Street, and it’s expected to further add vibrancy to the area, supporting new businesses that area also expected to follow. “This will be a game changer that will transform the immediate area,” he said. 

“It’s an ecosystem” said Mr. Gauthier in an interview, explaining how different elements will come together to make Granville Street a success. The street is also drawing attention from investors such as Bonnis Properties, who have invested in various properties in the area with the expectation to further add tenants to enhance the overall vibrancy of the area.

Some businesses are bullish about the street — Hungry Guys is an example, securing restaurant space in the former Tom Lee Music building (Tom Lee relocated nearby last year). Local retailer ‘8th & Main’ at 1105 Granville Street is said to be doing well. 

Independent retailers have an opportunity to move onto the street, noted Mr. Gauthier, who went on to explain how rents on Granville Street are lower than many of downtown Vancouver’s commercial streets, while also enjoying footfall that is expected to only increase as new tenants of all types move in. 

That sentiment is shared by Martin Moriarty, Vice President at CBRE in Vancouver. Mr. Moriarty has worked on many deals on the street and he says that he agrees with Mr. Gauthier’s sentiment that Granville Street is a great place for independent retailers, as well as retailers seeking an edgier address than that of some more popular commercial streets in the area. 

“Traffic is stronger on Granville Street than it is in Gastown, and rents are comparable,” explained Mr. Moriarty in an interview.  He referred to brands such as John Fluevog shoes, Urban Outfitters and Brandy Melville as examples, which cater to a more youthful demographic. Mr. Moriarty said he expects to see more in the way of edgier brands move onto Granville Street — one example is Quebec-based Exclucity, known for its popularity amongst ‘sneakerheads’, which recently secured its first Vancouver retail space  at 850 Granville Street with plans to open a store later this year. 

Other notable retailers opening soon on Granville Street include Shanghai Baixin (stationery), Lebanese restaurant chain Zaatar y Ziet  both of which will be first-to-North America locations. Montreal-based fashion retailer Judith & Charles recently left CF Pacific Centre for a space on the 600-block of Granville Street. Adidas also just opened a new store a few doors down from its Adidas Originals location which was renovated and re-opened in December. Value-priced Chinese retailer Miniso will open soon next to John Fluevog shoes on the 800 block.  “There will be more of a retail continuity along the street for several blocks,” explained Mr. Moriarty, who went on to praise the area’s architectural ‘character’ which is something of a contrast to the more manicured streetscapes of nearby Yaletown. 

Granville Street is expected to continue to gentrify as brands move onto the street, with the assistance of CBRE and other brokerages working in the area. The 637,000 square foot Hudson’s Bay flagship store at 674 Granville Street, as well, will be seeing some changes as its parent company looks to further monetize its real estate. Rumours that Saks Fifth Avenue could move into the store or nearby persist, though it’s unclear if and how the luxury retailer would be able to secure the required space (some say it could go into a development across Seymour Street from Hudson’s Bay). As well, internal changes in the Granville Street Hudson’s Bay will see menswear move from the sixth floor into the sub-basement, while the store’s upper levels are earmarked for WeWork office space. 

As real estate prices continue to climb, more changes are expected for Granville Street in the coming years, spanning the entire stretch of Granville Street from Burrard Inlet to the North, to False Creek in the south. Office development continues on the northern portion of the street towards the Seabus Terminal and cruise ship berths at Canada Place, while the stretch of Granville towards the Granville Street bridge will also see major improvements. The ‘Vancouver House’ residential tower, now under construction, will be joined by another tall tower that Pinnacle International recently announced, both of which will include substantial commercial elements at their bases. High real estate prices will also dictate development at the heart of Granville Street, particularly along the 800 and 900 blocks and further southward, as landlords look to capitalize on an unprecedented real estate boom by investing in their properties to create maximum return. 

  1. Great article Craig. I was just at Granville Street today looking around and honestly thought to myself of the large potential the street has. Still too many vacancies (for now) that become prime unoccupied spots for the homeless to loiter outside (unfortunately). I’m most exited about the upgrades and overhaul of the Empire Theatre. That’s been a huge eyesore for years. I look forward to Granville Street’s bright future!

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