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Meet the Manager: Luxury Retailer ‘Nicolas’ on Cumberland Street in Toronto

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By Retail Insider and Luxury Careers Canada

Luxury multi-brand retailer Nicolas, located at 153 Cumberland Street in Toronto’s Bloor-Yorkville Area, carries some of the world’s most highly respected luxury brands for both men and women. Nicolas is regularly sought out by high-profile North American tastemakers and celebrities for his unique take on fashion, always bringing in one-of-a-kind trend-setting pieces for his discerning clientele. Retail Insider recently spoke with Founder and Owner, Nicolas Kalatzis, to discuss how he got started, some of the challenges during COVID-19, and what Bloor-Yorkville could improve to attract a continuing affluent demographic following recent lockdowns.

Nicolas Kalatzis

RI: How did you first get involved in Retail? What motivated you to open your own store?

NK: My first job in retail was at the original Brick Shirt House near the corner of Yonge and Gloucester Streets next to Fenton’s restaurant in Toronto. I bought a shirt for $32.10 with tax and the owner, Alan Goouch, offered me a job. I was a student and it was a part-time job where I learned that I had a skillset for fashion. I could touch fabrics blindfolded and put together colours effortlessly, it was like I could swim the first time I jumped in the pool. On my days off as a student, I would visit Marvel Pant Company and I learned more about garments. I worked for Alan Goouch for a decade and then at the Marc Laurent store on Bloor Street which brought in brands including Claude Montana, Byblos, Cerruti 1881, and others.

I opened my first store in 1991 at the northwest corner of Bloor Street and Bellair Street, across from Harry Rosen. David Daniels of the Daniels family spearheaded financing for the store during a challenging recession. I styled my own private label clothing collection, accessories, and shoes (handmade by Fatta A Mano produced by small artisan factories), and I brought in designers no one had heard of. Names such as Giorgio Armani Black Label, Romeo Gigli, Canali and Paul Smith that all became more well-known with time. I opened the first Vestimenta (Black Label Armani) boutique in Canada featuring their own fixtures from Italy. I opened my current store on Cumberland Street in 2000 with brands such as Lardini, Aspesi and Herno, which is one of the best outerwear brands in the world, and we also carry some very strong labels such as Lanvin, Isaia, and Neil Barrett. Over the years, I have worked in excess of 70 hours weekly plus all of the European buying trips twice a year, as well as monthly trips to New York City for the store. I have been a pioneer with the brands that we have brought into Toronto. In 2004, GQ named Nicolas as one of the best stores in world, and British Vogue in 2013 named us as one of world’s top 100 stores.

The biggest asset is my eye to measure pin and tailor garments is second to none. Life is good when you are doing something that comes naturally to you that you love and can make a living from.

RI: What was it about Yorkville that made you decide to locate here?

NK: My first job in the Yorkville area was at Marc Laurent in 1980s. The area for the past several decades has been a destination for people who desire luxury goods. Being a node for luxury brands and consumers, having a store in the area makes sense. Being on Cumberland Street for a business like mine is ideal. The street has a quaint European flair which included foot traffic. Before COVID-19, about 75% of my customers were regulars and 25% were walk-ins. Today walk-ins are limited given the pandemic and with major hotels such as the Four Seasons, Hazelton Hotel and the Windsor Arms in the area being almost empty, that tourist traffic is not there.

RI: What are some of the unique challenges of being in Yorkville that is different from being in a mall?

NK: The weather is a big one, particularly in the winter. At the same time, you get a far more personalized and customized vibe in Bloor-Yorkville that you don’t generally get in a mall. Except for Yorkdale that is, which is a phenom with some stores that aren’t even on Bloor or in Yorkville.

RI: How has Covid impacted your business and what strategies did you use to defeat it?

NK: COVID-19 has hit the fashion industry from the top down. Some fashion houses have closed, some designer showrooms in the U.S. have shuttered with the process being accelerated due to the pandemic. It’s hard to do business when people are not in the offices. There are no events for charities, weddings, and other celebrations. The clothing purchases for most, therefore, are limited, except for possibly activewear and some smart-casual items. Sales of suit and sports jackets are extremely soft. Some people are also concerned for their jobs and are not doing lavish things. One only needs so much clothing. Smart-casual is where I focused over the past eight to ten years — it’s not just a sports jacket, power-blue button-down shirt without a tie. It’s an art to dress smart-casual. Connecting with my clients has proven successful and private appointments are available.

RI: What do you think the Bloor-Yorkville community needs to do to thrive in the future?

NK: I think the area would benefit from high-end advertising and events closing streets off. Sophisticated marketing makes sense, and the BIA may wish to communicate more with local merchants to determine the best messaging. Toronto is a terrific city and the Toronto International Film Festival is world class. Similar marketing tactics would be beneficial for Bloor-Yorkville to attract the ideal target demographic.

RI: Are there any retailers that inspired your current store concept?

NK: I would say no, to be honest. The way that I have curated my stores and product it unique. It’s my own look, and Nicolas as a result is not like other stores.

Luxury Careers Canada is a new recruitment firm job board that will continue to expand with new positions. Check out the job board here.

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