The prominent Birks jewellery store in downtown Victoria will shutter next month on March 26, marking the end of a 74-year run for the retailer in the Victoria market. It’s also the second downtown Birks store to close in Canada in less than a three month timespan.
The current Birks store at 1023 Government Street opened in June of 2001. The store, which includes a facade along Fort Street, spans 1,561 square feet and opened as part of a major investment at the time to create a more “contemporary” fleet of stores across Canada. The downtown Victoria store reportedly cost about $500,000 to build. A year before, Birks reportedly spent $300,000 to outfit a store at Victoria’s Hillside Mall, which has since closed. Birks was owned by Italy-based Iniziativa Regaluxe SrL at the time.
The location of the downtown Victoria Birks store is exceptional, being across the street from the entrance to the Government Street Hudson’s Bay department store. The area features quaint historic architecture and is a short walk from the beautiful Inner Harbour area. As with many cities, Victoria’s downtown core has recently suffered from a lack of tourism and increased vagrancy and drug use which some say was partly responsible for the exit of iconic and historic 160-year-old clothing retailer W&J Wilson from Government Street last year.
The 1023 Government building that Birks currently occupies in Victoria was formerly occupied by a Tilleys Endurables store. From the mid 1950s to the late 1990s, a retailer called The Quest operated a store there. A 1952 newspaper advertisement noted a “K Shoe store” that occupied that address at the time.
Prior to moving to Government Street in 2001, Birks occupied a significantly larger storefront at 706-708 Yates Street. The location would become considered too remote as the city’s retail core shifted from Douglas Street to Government Street a block west in more recent years.
The March 1948 opening of the Yates Street Birks store was met with fanfare as Henry G. Birks, grandson of the founder of the retailer, was on site for the day. The Poodle Dog Cafe occupied the site prior to its owner’s retirement.
Birks has closed several downtown stores in Canada in recent years. Most recently in December, Birks’ downtown Saskatoon store closed. That closure came with sadness for some given the 92-year run for Birks in the city as well as the prominence and prestige the store brought with its own standalone building in the downtown core. Downtown Saskatoon’s streetfront retail has lost out to the foot traffic of the Midtown Centre which is an enclosed downtown mall anchored by a Hudson’s Bay department store.
Over the past decade, Birks has closed several stores in Canadian downtowns. That includes stores in downtown Edmonton at the Manulife Place, Cornwall Centre in Regina, and downtown St. John New Brunswick. In years prior Birks had many more stores with the Hamilton Ontario market alone once boasting three Birks stores alone.
We’ll be reporting on plans to renovate the Vancouver flagship Birks store following major renovations to the retailer’s downtown Montreal and Toronto Manulife Centre flagships in recent years. Birks also operates downtown stores in the Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, and Ottawa markets. The Montreal-based retailer was founded by Henry Birks in 1879 and has a storied history in Canada.