Battle of the Grocery Retailers Heats up in Bloor-Yorkville [Analysis]

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Toronto’s Bloor-Yorkville area is already home to the highest density of grocery retailers in Canada, and competition is heating up with the recent addition of McEwan as well as the opening of Eataly towards the end of the summer. Existing grocers are also renovating and expanding in an effort to maintain market share. While it’s good news for consumers in the area, some are questioning if all of the grocery stores will ultimately survive. 

There might be room for all of them however, as Bloor-Yorkville’s population explodes with new condominium development in the immediate area which will double the population within a few years. Canada’s busiest subway station is located at the Yonge and Bloor intersection, boasting more than 300,000 daily commuters with plans for an eventual billion-dollar station overhaul. Bloor Yorkville, home to many office buildings, also boasts a daytime population of almost 300,000 people. 

Last month we reported on grocery store McEwan, which opened on the concourse level of First Capital Realty’s 1 Bloor Street East commercial podium (also anchored by Nordstrom Rack upstairs). McEwan offers a curated selection of grocery items as well as an expansive assortment of dine-in options ranging from pizza to a salad bar in an 18,000 square foot retail space with an entrance on Yonge Street. 

McEwan joined an already robust grocery offering in the neighbourhood. A short walk northeast is a Longo’s grocery store at the Hudson’s Bay Centre, which features a mix of grocery and grab-and-go items in a tight 8,000 square foot ground level retail space. 

A block west at the Manulife Centre complex (currently under extensive renovations) is the Bloor Street Market, which is a Loblaw franchise carrying Presidents Choice and other branded products. Located on the basement level of Manulife Place, the 21,000 square foot store is said to be in negotiations to expand and renovate. While details are sparse, the expansion could annex space under an escalator to expand the store by 2,000 square feet — and if the basement level is reconfigured, the store could almost double in size, according to one source. 

Another 50,000 square feet at Manulife Centre will soon be devoted to Eataly, the popular Italian-themed grocerant concept that is expanding globally. Construction on Eataly appears to have been delayed slightly, with the store expected to open towards the end of the summer or early September, according to a source with the company. Eataly will span three levels — a basement level entrance will include retail offerings as well as a street level entrance facing onto Bloor Street, with the 35,000 square foot second level of the podium containing most of Eataly’s offerings. The billionaire Weston family owns 52% of Eataly Canada as part of its Selfridges Group of companies, as well as the local Terroni Restaurant group which will be Eataly’s restaurant partner.

Upscale Toronto-based grocery retailer Pusateri’s Fine Foods operates a cozy marble-clad 5,500 square foot space at the corner of Bay Street and Yorkville Avenue at the base of a high-end residential rental tower, serving affluent locals living at The Four Seasons Private Residences and other luxury buildings in the area. The store opened in 2003 and used to have valet parking (which it lost in 2013 after a battle with the city over sidewalk widths). 

Whole Foods operates a 50,000 square foot store at the Yorkville Village shopping centre (formerly ‘Hazelton Lanes’), which was the Austin-based grocery retailer’s first location in Canada when it opened in 2002. Whole Foods was acquired by behemoth Amazon in the summer of 2017 and modest changes have been made since. The Yorkville store recently saw a partial renovation including new fixtures in lighting, likely in response to the increased competition nearby — Yorkville Village boasts a loyal clientele of affluent locals, some who also frequent the centre’s Equinox fitness centre and SoulCycle spin studio

The Bloor-Yorkville neighbourhood is also home to several smaller grocery retailers. Homegrown Rabba, which is a cross between a grocery store and convenience store (generally measuring between 2,500-6,000 square feet each), operates several locations in the immediate area. Those include a unit about a block north of Longo’s on Church Street and Park Road, a store on Charles Street West and Balmuto Street (across from the Manulife Centre), as well as three stores slightly further away including one on Isabella Street near Yonge Street, one at Charles Street East and Jarvis Street, and one on Wellesley Street between Bay Street and Yonge Street. Rabba stores are open 24-hours a day, 365 days/year and that convenience has resulted in plenty of loyal shoppers. 

Other smaller neighbourhood grocers include US-based Korean grocery chain H-Mart which operates a tiny store at 695 Yonge Street just south of Hayden Street (a few steps from McEwan), and the ‘Orchards Market’ produce market recently opened at Cumberland Terrace with an entrance at the corner of Yonge Street and Cumberland Street, about 240 feet north of Bloor Street. 

As if that wasn’t enough, the neighbourhood’s drug stores will also be offering an expanded assortment of food offerings at some larger locations. Shoppers Drug Mart, which is currently building a multi-level flagship at the southwest corner of Yonge Street and Charles Street West, is expected to offer an expanded assortment of grocery items ranging from frozen and canned foods to meat and vegetable offerings. South of Bloor-Yorkville at the corner of Bay Street and Wellesley Street West in ‘The Britt’ mixed-use development (former Sutton Place Hotel) will be another Shoppers Drug Mart store that will span two levels and occupy about 12,000 square feet. Drug store chain Rexall recently announced a partnership with M&M Foods to add frozen food sections to some larger Rexall stores, though it’s not known if any Rexall locations in Bloor-Yorkville will have these, given most Rexall stores in the area tend to be on the small side. 

Ultimately, the consumer is the winner in the Bloor-Yonge grocery wars. The highly desirable neighbourhood is packed with amenities and as such, boasts a high quality of life for residents in the area that is extremely walkable — as one might expect, ‘Walk Score’ grades the neighbourhood as being a ‘Walker’s Paradise’ with a score of 100. At the same time, the remarkable density of grocery offerings in the area means that competition is fierce — retailers in the area can’t afford to get it wrong with the risk of losing customers to competitors. Grocery retailing is already challenging — margins are often tight and sanitation issues may arise in even the best operators. Not to mention, online grocery shopping is on the rise with home delivery being an option offered by retailers either in-house or through third-party providers. 

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