On Friday of last week, the Hudson’s Bay Company closed one of its oldest suburban Hudson’s Bay units at the Le Centre Boulevard shopping centre in Montreal. It marks the end to a chapter in Canadian retail history involving the former Morgan’s department store chain.
The Le Boulevard Hudson’s Bay store opened as Morgan’s in the fall of 1953 and was one of the first suburban department stores in Canada. Increasing suburbanization in the 1950’s saw modern shopping malls open in automobile-dependent locations on the outskirts of major cities, with the expectation that locals would patronize these instead of the massive multi-level department stores which were once staples in most larger Canadian downtown cores.
Prior to opening suburban stores, Montreal-based Morgan’s operated a large single location on downtown Montreal’s Ste-Catherine Street West. In the 1950’s Morgan’s began branching out by opening suburban stores in Montreal and Toronto, with Le Boulevard being the first suburban location for the company.
The Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) acquired the Morgan’s chain in 1960 and in 1972, the Quebec stores were converted to ‘The Bay/La Baie’ banner. The flagship downtown Montreal Morgan’s is now a 655,400 square foot Hudson’s Bay flagship.
When Morgan’s opened at Le Boulevard, suburban shopping centres were still a new concept in Canada. Developers and department stores were partnering and in some instances, the department stores themselves were the developers. At the Park Royal shopping centre in West Vancouver, for example, Woodward’s opened a store in 1950 and in 1993, that location was converted to a Hudson’s Bay store. Given its age, the Le Boulevard Hudson’s Bay unit was said to have been the second-oldest suburban Bay store in the company prior to its closure last week.
In the 1950’s Montreal residents were becoming increasingly receptive to the suburban department store model and as a result, in 1958, the one-level Morgan’s at Le Boulevard added a second level to keep up with the demand.
Morgan’s eventually opened several stores throughout Quebec and into Ontario. Besides the downtown Montreal flagship and a former Morgan’s unit at Eglinton Square in Toronto (which is now a Hudson’s Bay), all of the original Morgans locations have been either demolished or repurposed into additional mall space. A new breed of larger and glitzier shopping centres have taken hold in many of Canada’s major centres, leaving the future of malls such as Eglinton Square in question.
Last month, Hudson’s Bay opened its first newly-built store in 15 years at the Carrefour Angrignon Shopping Centre in LaSalle, located about six kilometres south of Montreal’s downtown core. The modern store features an impressive interior that is modern and bright — a stark contrast to some suburban Bay locations which are often dated and disheveled. The new Carrefour Angrignon Bay location is one of 11 Hudson’s Bay stores now operating in the Montreal area. Hudson’s Bay now operates 88 full-line stores coast-to-coast (parent company Hudson’s Bay Company also operates other retailers in Canada including Saks Fifth Avenue, Saks OFF 5TH, and Home Outfitters/Hudson’s Bay Home).
The department store model is becoming less-and-less common in Canada, with Hudson’s Bay remaining as the only traditional department store retailer in Canada. At one time, chains of department stores were found nationwide. Most recently, Sears Canada shuttered its Canadian operations after bankruptcy and other department stores that have shuttered over the years include the likes of Woodward’s in Western Canada (acquired by HBC in 1993), Simpson’s (acquired by HBC in 1978 and shuttered in 1991), and the national Eaton’s chain which shuttered in 2002 after attempts by Sears Canada to revive the brand after Eaton’s bankruptcy in 1999.
Big changes are in store for the Le Boulevard Shopping Centre, which spans about 400,000 square feet and sees more than 8-million visitors a year. Landlord Crofton Moore was recently marketing the Hudson’s Bay space for re-tenanting, which was profiled on Retail Insider a year ago today. That re-tenanting included a variety of possible configurations that would have involved demising the two-level Hudson’s Bay space for multiple commercial tenants. That vision already appears to be on its way to reality — updated marketing materials from Crofton Moore shows the second level of the mall’s Hudson’s Bay store as leased to fashion retailer Aubainerie, with multiple retail units currently being available as part of a corridor reconfiguration on the former Bay store’s main floor.
*A special thank you to Patrick who suggested the story and assisted with some of the research.