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Retail Updates from the Desk of Craig Patterson: June 14 2021

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Ontario saw a partial reopening Friday, allowing retailers with street-facing stores to reopen as well as restaurant patios. Lineups at some Toronto retailers were hundreds of feet long with a mix of customers buying and returning products. Patios were hopping on the weekend throughout downtown Toronto on the weekend and sidewalks were crowded, although some rain put a damper on the activity on Sunday afternoon.

We observed lineups at every Winners, Marshalls and HomeSense store in downtown Toronto as well as at Nordstrom Rack at 1 Bloor E., H&M, Zara, Aritzia and various other retailers in the core. The lineups were a mix of shoppers and people returning items. The overall vibe, coupled with the sunny warm weather, was positive with people getting out into the city enjoying the sun, patios, and stores.

Nicolas Kalatzis of luxury multi-brand fashion retailer Nicolas in Yorkville said there’s a pent-up demand from consumers looking to “get back to a normal life” and that there’s an opportunity for a spending boom. In terms of menswear fashions, smart-casual is selling though because of the current work-from-home situation, many aren’t yet buying suits and sports jackets or pants for that matter.

The Ontario lockdowns have been criticized by many including in an article we ran on Friday in Retail Insider. Aldo CEO David Bensadoun was also quoted in the Toronto Star last week saying, “If you had a bunch of really smart people sitting in a room trying to think up ways to kill retail, you couldn’t have done a better job than the Ford government.” Mall-based retailers lacking exterior entrances are still not permitted open and many are angry, as are other businesses including restaurants not able to open for indoor dining, beauty services, fitness and others.

There’s ongoing good news for brick-and-mortar retail despite rapid growth in digital. We’re aware of numerous lease deals that have either been executed or are in the negotiation phase for retailers, restaurants and other business categories. It’s great to see such optimism from businesses as we look to a less restricted “post-Covid” world. Many are hoping and praying that we don’t see further lockdowns moving forward which could be impacted by new variants.

One interesting development that was announced last Friday is a partnership with Hudson’s Bay and Forever 21. Hudson’s Bay will be carrying the Forever 21 line in several of its stores in a partnership with YM Inc. which relaunched the Forever 21 brand in Canada this spring with standalone stores as reported in Retail Insider. We reported that TopShop/TopMan was exiting Hudson’s Bay by this fall and Forever 21 could be seen as something of a replacement, though Forever 21 may not have such a grand presence within Hudson’s Bay stores at least initially. We’re told that at the Yorkdale Bay store, Forever 21 will occupy the second level of the former TopShop space but not the ground floor. Forever 21 will also have an expansive presence at the Square One Bay store in Mississauga and an expansion will continue. Forever 21 is also available on thebay.com.

Main floor of the downtown Calgary Hudson’s Bay flagship store on June 13 2021. Image: “AL”

We reported this month that the downtown Calgary Hudson’s Bay flagship store would be downsized to three floors. An inside source in Calgary provided Retail Insider with an update. The north side of the street level of the store has been cleared out for a new women’s fashions department with the remainder of the floor to house cosmetics, fragrances and handbags (which once occupied the entire floor). The north half of the second floor will also house womenswear with the remainder of the floor for menswear – the entire second floor for years was dedicated solely to men’s fashions. The north half of the third floor, once all womenswear, will become a housewares floor. The fourth-floor currently housing women’s fashions, kids and toys will be shut down as will the furniture department on the fifth floor, and the basement level is said to be empty as well.

It appears that human-staffed check-outs in stores are on the way out for some retailers in Canada, and many consumers are unhappy. There have been a few news articles recently where Shoppers Drug Mart told shoppers that unless they’re using cash, the self-checkout is the only option. Now there’s a report that a Walmart store in Terrace BC will be the first in Canada to have all self-checkouts as a test. No doubt the trend will continue and unhappy consumers may vote with their dollars.

Retail Insider’s Craig Patterson will be hosting an event for Telus this Wednesday at 2pm Eastern/11am Pacific discussing smart security systems and how the technology is being integrated beyond security to include store operations and analytics. The Retail Insider podcast is also ramping things up with various guests with several segments to be released this week and next. Our most recent podcast features David Goldman of Vancouver-based menswear retailer Boys’Co which will be shutting down towards the end of this year, and it’s a great conversation.

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

Retail Openings and Happenings

French sporting goods behemoth Decathlon opened a permanent store location in Burlington Ontario over the weekend, replacing a temporary storefront that opened last year. The retailer has been profiled several times in Retail Insider and it is expected to open stores in major markets across Canada over the next several years. Brokerage Oberfeld Snowcap is negotiating the lease deals on behalf of the retailer.

The Biway $10 Store concept is expected to open at 95 Orfus Road in Toronto at some point, and its opening was delayed following the death of founder Mal Coven in October of 2020. Coven had plans to revive the brand with a new concept where all products (or a bundle of items) would be priced at $10. Details with his estate are being sorted out and we’ll report back when we have more information.

Vancouver-based fashion retailer Oak + Fort will be opening its largest store to date this summer at West Edmonton Mall in Edmonton. The 5,000 square foot Oak + Fort will be considerably larger than its second-largest location which spans about 3,000 square feet. We’ll be reporting back on more details about the store as well as a broader expansion for the brand that will see new Oak + Fort stores open in Canada as well as the United States where it already has several locations.

This month Holt Renfrew Oglivy in Montreal is marking one year of completion after a multi-year expansion and renovation of the former Ogilvy department store building on Ste-Catherine Street in downtown Montreal. The 250,000 square foot Holt Renfrew Ogilvy is a showpiece for the city and is the primary clustering of luxury brands for the city. The stunning six-level store is a must visit and houses many of the biggest superbrands in existence in a collection of concessions throughout the building. We had the opportunity in 2019 to see parts of the opened main floor and concourse level (housing cosmetics) prior to the pandemic and we featured the completed store in an article in July of last year.

Oxford Properties-managed Southcentre Mall in Calgary and Kingsway Mall in Edmonton launched public art initiatives this month as part of a patio initiative called Eat & Seek with seating for 60 plus guests at Southcentre and 80 plus guests at Kingsway. The expansive outdoor art installations also act as self-serve patio spaces to support the local foodservice businesses at the malls by safely enjoying a takeaway meal outdoors. We reported this spring that shopping centres across Canada are opening outdoor patio spaces in parking lots (see photos above in the slideshow).

Montreal-based outerwear and fashion brand Moose Knuckles announced a significant investment from former CEO of Tapestry, Inc. (the company that owns Coach, Kate Spade and Stuart Weitzman) with Victor Luis appointed as Executive Chairman of Moose Knuckles. Luis is partnering with Moose Knuckles’ founders and Co-CEOs Noah Stern, Ayal Twik and their families, along with global investment firm Cathay Capital to be an investor in the company. Moose Knuckles has experienced significant double-digit year-over-year growth during the past five years under Luis’ guidance and it plans to broaden and accelerate its expansion. Moose Knuckles opened its first permanent store at Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre in 2017 and has since expanded to other storefronts in Canada and beyond, including several pop-ups that could be converted to permanent storefronts.

Calgary-based C & C Candle company has expanded its operations into a 30,000 square foot building in the city. It’s a positive move despite challenges with the pandemic. The brand says that it is continuing to grow its customer base across Canada and is bullish on the future. The new location recently opened with a grand opening scheduled for July as more stock comes in. The company has three different collections of candles, three different types of essential oils, bath bombs, bath salts and a whole range of supplies to make candles and is primarily an e-commerce retail operation.

Image: Endy Sofa

Toronto-based bed-in-a-box brand Endy, now owned by Sleep Country Canada after an acquisition in 2018, has launched its first product not intended for the bedroom. The new Endy Sofa is modular and can be configured as an armchair, love-seat, 3-seater, or L-shape sectional and there’s a matching ottoman. The sofas are made with high-density foam and durable synthetic linen fabric and comes with reversible cushions with tufted and non-tufted sides. Shipping is free and averages 3.2 days and there’s a 30 day risk-free trial as with the mattresses. It remains to be seen if Endy continues to develop its home furnishings business which could be a mild disruptor to the segment. It will also be interesting to watch if mattress-in-a-box competitors also try something similar.

If you’re looking for something less pricey, you can find some more affordable sectionals here

Store Closings

Several stores have shut in Canada and more could come. American jewelry brand Alex and Ani appears to have shut all of its Canadian stores and the brand filed for bankruptcy in the US last week after struggles. We’ll follow up with a more detailed article about this as the brand began to rapidly open stores after entering Canada in 2015.

Over the past two days we noted that in Toronto’s Yorkville area, two prominent stores have closed. At 101 Yorkville Avenue, upscale French women’s fashion brand Georges Rech shut its store which operated there for several years. Georges Rech has had a presence in Toronto for decades and this could be an end of an era unless a new location is found.  A Montreal boutique at 1277 Greene Street in affluent Westmount is still operating for now.

Upscale French children’s brand Jacadi also shut its store at the Yorkville Village shopping centre in Toronto. The brand also has stores at Bayview Village in Toronto, Lakeshore Road E. in Oakville according to its website. A store in Vancouver’s Kerrisdale is closed and a store on Laurier Avenue in Montreal also shut a while ago, and we’ll follow up to see if the company has or will shut all stores in Canada.

The De Grisogono boutique at Saks Fifth Avenue in downtown Toronto has shut down with white hoarding replacing the storefront. The Italian luxury jeweller featured a $100,000 watch in the Toronto boutique when Saks opened in 2016. The jeweller filed for bankruptcy in 2020 amid controversy. Saks in Toronto also lost a Boucheron boutique last year (the line is now carried at Holt Renfrew) and the space is vacant, and we also noticed that Australian skincare brand Aesop has shut its Saks shop-in-stores in downtown Toronto and CF Sherway Gardens.

Two Rexall drug stores in downtown Toronto recently shut, including a location at 48 Yonge Street at the corner of Wellington Street as well as at 401 Yonge Street near Gerrard Street. This follows the recent announcement that the unique Rexall store on Bloor Street near Brunswick Avenue in the Annex will also be shutting – the store opened in a former ‘dive bar’ in the spring of 2017.

We will publish our next report in a few days.

Article Author

Craig Patterson
Located in Toronto, Craig is the Editor-in-Chief of Retail Insider and President/CEO of Retail Insider Media Ltd. He is also a retail analyst and consultant, Director of Applied Research at the University of Alberta School of Retailing in Edmonton, and consultant to the Retail Council of Canada. He has studied the Canadian retail landscape for over 25 years and he holds Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Laws Degrees.

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