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Canadian Retail Updates from the Desk of Craig Patterson

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Retail Insider will periodically provide updates on things happening in the Canadian retail industry in a multi-topic essay forum. This format will provide us the opportunity to put out a lot more information in a timely manner and with less effort. It may be a good idea for readers to follow these posts regularly, and we encourage industry professionals to submit information that we may be interested in publishing. Here’s our first segment. 

COVID-19 has ravaged many retailers in Canada, and despite some of the good news coming out of Statistics Canada, many chains are feeling the pain of reduced sales and other challenges. Leasing has been challenging in some markets while some food and beverage chains have been bullish with plans to take over vacated locations from current and former competitors. Grocers and pharmacies are doing well and surprisingly, luxury brands are doing better than expected even if only via online sales and curbside pickup. 

Industry insiders are forecasting a rocky road over the next few months as retailers assess finances and look to the future. Vaccinations will help with consumer confidence but we may continue to see government shutdowns amid the potential spread of variants. Positive economic numbers do not necessarily indicate that the failure of some retail chains is inevitable from a revenue and cost/debt perspective. We’ll do our best to report on this either in full editorial articles or in a more brief format such as this. 

There is certainly good news out there and we’ll endeavour to report on that. Our report regarding Vancouver retail this week provides some optimism and we’ll be profiling other markets as well.

As part of our business, Retail Insider is ramping up its guest podcasts. Last week we spoke with the former CEO of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Area Charles Gauthier, and our new segment this week is with Melissa Austria of upscale Toronto-based retailer Gotstyle. Watch for more of these in the weeks to come. Craig Patterson will also be hosting a free event for Telus on Wednesday June 16 at 2pm Eastern/11am Pacific time discussing the importance of loss prevention systems to retailers including intelligent security systems [sign up here].

The following is an overview of a few things we’re watching right now in terms of openings, closings and announcements. 

Retail Openings 

Despite the pandemic situation, retailers continue to open and expand. We’ll be reporting on quite a few new store openings over the summer which signals confidence in brick-and-mortar retail. 

Calgary-based swimwear retailer Swimco, which went bankrupt in October of 2020 and shut all stores, has opened a pop-up store in Calgary which is an encouraging sign for the brand. Owner Lori Bacon declined to comment on what’s happening with the company at this time and we’ll follow up if there are any further developments. 

UK-based luxury fragrance brand Jo Malone will open a fourth Canadian storefront this year at CF Richmond Centre near Vancouver, spanning 630 square feet. It will replace Canada’s only standalone Clinique location that opened in the mall in the spring of 2018. We were initially informed that Jo Malone would be opening three Canadian storefronts with two of those in Toronto at CF Toronto Eaton Centre and Yorkdale, as well as a Vancouver location at CF Pacific Centre. The stores are part of a growth strategy for the brand, which for years has been carried in Canada at Holt Renfrew, as well as Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Sephora. Jane Baldwin, Senior Vice President at Lennard Commercial Realty negotiated the lease deals on behalf of Jo Malone. 

Montreal-based Bikini Village announced four new stores in Western Canada at Bower Place in Red Deer, Midtown Plaza in Saskatoon, Metropolis in Vancouver and St. Vital Centre in Winnipeg. All locations will be open by June 11. We recently featured the brand’s expansion in Retail Insider. 

Toronto-based Drake General Store is reopening its flagship store back into the hotel property itself at 1150 Queen Street West this summer. The store moved across the street in July of 2016 temporarily while the hotel property was overhauled, and the temporary location recently closed. Drake General Store also has a concession space on the concourse level of the Hudson’s Bay flagship store in downtown Toronto and last year it shut its storefront at CF Sherway Gardens in Toronto. 

French retail bakery concept PAUL recently opened its first Canadian location at 1164 Robson Street in Vancouver. Paul is part of Holder Group which also owns Ladurée which has a franchised storefront across the street. The menu at Paul includes bread, sandwiches, pastries, macarons, and other goods served in an attractive retail space. Marcus & Millichap brokers Mario Negris and Martin Moriarty negotiated the deal when they were with CBRE. 

Electric bicycle retailer Pedago has opened a 750-square-foot electric bike sales and rental shop in the Southlands area of Tsawwassen near Vancouver. The store also offers local tours, information and repairs in the 530-acre master-planned residential and farming community. Pedego was founded in California in 2008 and Canada launched two years later — now has a chain of more than a dozen stores across Canada and 140 privately-owned shops in North America, offering sales, service and rentals of North America’s favourite electric bicycle. Murray Pratt, a long-time South Delta resident and active leader in the local sports community, opened the store with friend and business partner Gord Sarkissian. 

Photo: Pedago

Beauty behemoth Sephora has opened a storefront at The Amazing Brentwood in Burnaby and marks the retailer’s continued expansion into the Canadian market. Retail Insider’s Lee Rivett toured the shopping centre on Thursday of last week and we’ll be profiling the centre in a photo report. Construction specialists Amachris built the new Brentwood Sephora store and is part of Sephora’s expansion that will see nearly 50 more stores open in Canada over the next two to three years. 

Dustin Fuhs on our team noted that furniture retailer the Chesterfield Shop is opening a new downtown Toronto store at 275 King Street East. We’ll follow up on this when we have more details. 

Over the summer we’ll be announcing at least two more high-end/luxury stores that will be opening on Toronto’s Bloor Street West when permitted. We’re also following leasing activity in other markets. In future Briefs we’ll include many more store opening updates to share. 

Retail Closings

We reported on Friday that iconic menswear retailer Boys’Co in Vancouver is shutting down operations after 37 years. The full article can be found here

Hudson’s Bay finally shut its downtown Edmonton store late last week. The 168,000 square foot store opened in 2002 after Eaton’s went bankrupt and shut all stores. Hudson’s Bay has a long history in downtown Edmonton and we wrote a feature article last year when HBC made the announcement

Inditex-owend fashion brand Massimo Dutti recently shut its store at CF Rideau Centre in Ottawa. The retail concept is a sister brand to Zara which has been shutting selected stores globally. Dutti still has stores in the Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver markets. A Yorkdale location in Toronto closed in 2019 to make way for a massive Nike flagship store that could open as soon as this summer in the mall. 

Upscale Austrian hosiery brand Wolford exited Holt Renfrew Ogilvy in Montreal last month according to our Montreal correspondent Maxime Frechette. The boutique space was located on the third floor of the beautiful Holt Renfrew Ogilvy store which is a luxury showpiece for the Montreal market. Wolford still has stores in the Vancouver and Toronto markets, and the downtown Vancouver store is expected to close at some point to make way for a Cartier flagship store that will be moving into the adjacent space once occupied by Hermes which relocated nearby in 2019.

Casual fashion chain American Eagle recently shut its massive store on Ste-Catherine Street in downtown Montreal. It was the second-largest location globally for the brand. A rumour was recently circulating that Apple had leased the space to open a flagship store, and some are saying that a deal never concluded for that particular space. Apple currently has a store nearby at 1231 Ste-Catherine Street. 

The Structube furniture store at 140 West Hastings Street shut forever last month. Peter Meiszner of Vancouver-based news publication UrbanYVR spoke to store staff who told him that the move was due in part to customers not feeling safe in the area, particularly as pickups happen in the alley behind the store. Other retailers and foodservice businesses have indicated similar opinions and have shut as well. Structube has a store in Vancouver located at 2401 Granville Street, a wealthier part of town lacking the social issues seen in the Downtown Eastside.

Danier Leather shut its store in Toronto’s PATH network at the TD Centre, and it’s unclear what the future is for some other locations. The store opened in the summer of 2017. An employee at the Vancouver area store at Tsawwassen Mills says the company is an ongoing concern.

Happenings Etc.

The second edition of the Lavazza Drive-In Film Festival will take place at Ontario Place in Toronto from June 27 to July 17. On July 1 (Canada Day), the showcase film will be Peace By Chocolate, the story of a Syrian Refugee entrepreneur in Nova Scotia who founded a successful chocolate business that is expanding with new stores. The film festival will open on Canada Multiculturalism day and will focus on diversity and expand its reach to engage a wider range of communities and minorities. Preditcmedix, an AI company based in Toronto that we reported on last year, will be deploying its Covid-screening Safe Entry Stations at the festival. 

The US President recently signed legislation allowing cruise ships departing from Seattle for Alaska to bypass Canadian ports because of the pandemic. Cruise ships bring millions of dollars to Vancouver and Victoria retailers and it’s hoped that the ships return in 2022, otherwise retailers in places such as Vancouver’s Gastown may never recover. Cruise ships are said to have a $2.7 billion economic impact on the BC economy overall.

Adam Skelly, owner of Toronto-based Adamson Barbecue, is leading a constitutional challenge against the Ontario lockdowns. He has been against lockdowns noting the harm that they bring to business owners and others. The hearing will be heard in the Ontario Superior court of Justice on June 28 and 29. The final cross examination of the province’s expert will happen Monday (June 7) according to Skelly, who has legal counsel and has received funding from donations. We’ll update this as we learn more about the legal challenge. 

Further to last week’s article on the importance of Chinese tourists and consumers to segments of retail in Canada when we come out of the pandemic, one thing to note is the potential of Saks Fifth Avenue to court shoppers away from Holt Renfrew. A recent article in WWD notes that Saks.com president Marc Metrick predicts explosive growth in luxury e-commerce and Holt Renfrew has shown an exceptional ability to attract Asian shoppers online as well in in stores. Saks and Saks.com have the opportunity to grow sales at the high end in Canada, and it will be interesting to watch if anything happens. 

Screen shot from thebay.com

Hudson’s Bay’s website could also end up giving Holt Renfrew a run for its money. Designer items from The Room are presented prominently across the women’s side of the website. Anyone from abroad unfamiliar with Hudson’s Bay might mistake it for a luxury store given the brands available. The online assortment is impressive to say the least. 

This and That

Design Delish by Bayview Village

Every day we’re inundated with emails from PR firms telling us what their clients are doing. Some of these are interesting and worthy of mentioning. Here are a few things that caught our eye recently. 

The Nordstrom Anniversary Sale will take place from July 28 – August 8 and ‘Nordy Club Ambassadors’ can shop Early Access starting July 25The Nordstrom Anniversary Sale is the retailer’s biggest, most popular sale of the year featuring brand-new arrivals and prices go back up on August 9. Nordstrom has six full-priced stores in Canada in the Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary and Vancouver markets.

Bayview Village in Toronto announced the launch of Design Delish, described as a virtual ‘food styling event’ in partnership with Toronto Life where participants learn how to make food look ‘Instagram worthy’. Two sessions on June 8 and 10 will feature demonstrations featuring the most popular menu items from a number of mall restaurants and will be hosted by food stylist, Eshun Mott, décor specialist, Christine Hanlon and professional food photographer, Dan Robb. The cost of the Zoom-based sessions is $50+ tax per event with the option for curbside pick-up or delivery. 

Toronto-base General Assembly Pizza, became available on the TSX Venture Exchange under the symbol “GA.” The fast-casual, Toronto pizza restaurant turned omni channel brand has become the first-ever premium frozen pizza brand to go public on the TSX or TSXV. 

Canadian biotech company HAVN Life announced the inaugural launch of their retail division with a line of natural health products. The seven new formulations include a range of high-quality mushroom and plant extracts that the company says support brain health and immune function. They’re available online through the company’s ecommerce site yourhavnlife.com and through Amazon as well as at select Nesters Market stores in British Columbia later this month.

Afterpay is revealing Canada-specific data from its latest North American Fashion and Beauty Trend Report for Spring/Summer 2021. The report shares what’s trending amongst Afterpay’s user base of Millennial and Gen Z users. Here’s what we’ve noticed in Canada:

  • Canadians still dressing for comfort, but pumps and dresses are gaining traction
  • Beauty categories surprise with unlikely products ranking high
  • A move from away from skinny jeans to visually-interesting silhouettes
  • Summer prints and materials come out strong on top

Retail Insider will continue to publish Brief reports and may modify the formatting slightly as they continue to develop.

Article Author

Craig Patterson
Craig Patterson
Now located in Toronto, Craig is a retail analyst and consultant at the Retail Council of Canada. He's also the Director of Applied Research at the University of Alberta School of Retailing in Edmonton. He has studied the Canadian retail landscape for the past 25 years and he holds Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Laws Degrees. He is also President & CEO of Vancouver-based Retail Insider Media Ltd.

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