The past two-and-a-half years or so have proven to be an incredibly challenging time for many operating within the retail industry. Social restrictions, combined with public concern over health and safety, severely limited the efforts of merchants to drive traffic to their storefronts and provide a physical experience for their customers. However, as we slowly and methodically continue to enter what is being considered by many as the “post-pandemic” period – a time when communities everywhere approach closer to life as it was once enjoyed – there is renewed optimism within the industry as foot traffic returns to brick-and-mortar establishments. And, according to Annik Desmarteau, Vice President, Québec, for Ivanhoe Cambridge, it couldn’t be happening at a better time for many retailers and brands across the country.
“There’s no doubt that the pandemic forced a shift in consumer behaviour and preferences when it comes to the channels they leverage to shop and make purchases,” she says. “It prompted an accelerated digitization of the world around us and an increase in online activity and sales. But, for quite some time now, we’ve been experiencing a significant increase in foot traffic to stores, which is ultimately critical to the service they provide, the experience they offer and their ability to provide the type of physical engagement that helps drive loyalty among consumers. Driving physical traffic is even more critical for retailers operating in downtown urban locations, many of whom are dependent upon it for survival. After such a long period of uncertainty and challenge, it’s encouraging to see people returning to shopping centres and stores, providing a real boost for retailers and brands heading into the second half of the year.”
Repositioning Galerie PVM
The return of footfall to Main Streets and downtown cores across the country is also encouraging to Desmarteau and her team who manages multiple properties, including Galerie PVM in Montreal. Built more than 60 years ago in the heart of the city – bordered by Cathcart Street, René Lévesque Boulevard, Robert-Bourrassa Street and Mansfield Street – the Galerie is an impressive office and shopping complex comprised of four buildings and an underground plaza. Serving as the official headquarters for Royal Bank of Canada, Place Ville Marie is already widely recognized as one of Montreal’s most prominent urban gathering hubs. And, in order to enhance its status and bolster the experience it offers its visitors, it’s currently undergoing an ambitious transformation that Desmarteau describes as an “exciting next step” toward the future of Galerie PVM and the retailers and brands involved.
“Galerie PVM is such a unique destination,” she asserts. “It’s right in the heart of the city. There are more than 12,000 people working within the office buildings. And, because we’re at the centre of business within the city, most people working within Montreal have to pass through the Galerie on their way to their offices. During the pandemic things were obviously a little different. We took the time to accelerate our plans to reposition Place Ville Marie and are really proud and excited to see the city has come back to life with foot traffic and activity now returning to near-normal levels.”
Upgrading an iconic destination
The “repositioning” that Desmarteau refers to involved significant enhancements and upgrades made to the retail gallery. Surrounding a modern food hall concept, Galerie PVM has been designed to bring lifestyle, culture and cuisine together under one roof, offering its visitors an experience like no other. And, helping to support the execution of the Galerie’s retail component, Ivanhoe Cambridge has partnered with Aurora Realty Consultants. It’s a project that Jeff Berkowitz, Founder of the realty firm, says is a really appealing one to work on, adding that he and his team are proud to be able to help facilitate the evolution of one of Montreal’s most central and frequented sites.
“Place Ville Marie is iconic and was already very well-known throughout Montreal as a destination that is unique from most others prior to its redevelopment,” he asserts. “However, the enhancements that have been made really bring attention to the amazing retail and food offering that’s available within the gallery. The pandemic sort of halted almost everything within the industry for a while. And it’s taken some time to start to build momentum back up again. But as consumers begin returning to their favourite stores and shopping destinations, we’re making enhancements to the Galerie PVM offering, approaching the project with a two-pronged strategy. We need to make sure that we offer the goods and services that are needed by the tenants above. And, we also want to provide the retailers and brands that Montrealers will be most interested in as well as those that will provide an attraction for tourists to the city. It’s such an iconic destination right in the heart of Montreal. And so, the retail and food offering has got to complement that fact.”
Elevated retail offering
Berkowitz goes on to explain that because Galerie PVM does not offer the same size of shopping space that some other centres might be afforded, he and his team have got to get things right from a leasing perspective every time. They hope to build on an already impressive roster of retailers and brands on offer at Galerie PVM, which includes Browns Shoes, L’Occitane en Provence, ECCO Shoes, Moneysworth & Best Quality Shoe Care and more. And, to help support Aurora’s efforts, Desmarteau insists that there are further upgrades and improvements being made to Place Ville Marie – upgrades and improvements that she says are meant to ensure a constant flow of traffic to the area, providing maximum exposure for the retailers and brands in the gallery.
“The city is currently working on the entirety of McGill University Avenue, which runs from the gates of McGill University all the way to the parking and pedestrian entrance to the Place Ville Marie retail gallery, in order to introduce the city’s light rail transportation as well as to make it more pedestrian-friendly,” she says. “This is going to result in a beautiful, Parisian-type thoroughfare that will lead visitors right to the door of Galerie PVM, instigating a major shift in the feel surrounding the building. In addition, we have a lot of great plans to activate the esplanade above the gallery inside and outside of business hours over the coming months, bringing people to the area throughout the day and week, creating a community-type of atmosphere.”
Increasing foot traffic
They are additional embellishments that Berkowitz says will go a long way toward supporting the continued success of the retailers and brands with locations within the gallery, boosting the reputation of Place Ville Marie even further. And, best of all, according to Berkowitz, is the fact that the ongoing improvements which continue to create an even more welcoming and inspiring space for visitors only result in enhanced opportunities for prospective tenants. And that, he says, makes the development of he and his team’s proposition that much easier and straightforward.
“There is usually so much traffic that flows through Place Ville Marie on any given day that the value for any retailer or brand to be involved in the space speaks for itself,” he asserts. “However, the opportunities seem to be even bigger because of the tie-ins with activities, shows and performances that will be taking place upstairs. We’re in conversations with current tenants to find out how we can work collaboratively in efforts to look forward with respect to the vision of their particular business and services. And, we’re also bringing in new categories and players in order to further invigorate this amazing gallery of retailers and brands and carve out Galerie PVM’s appropriate place within the eclectic and diverse Montreal shopping ecosystem.”
Maintaining high standards
With respect to the work that’s been put into the repositioning of Galerie PVM, it’s easy to see why there’s so much excitement around the project. Berkowitz says that it’s one that is keeping his team on their toes, innovating to maintain the high standards that have been set through the years at Place Ville Marie. And, according to Desmarteau, they are standards that are helping to drive every decision that’s made with respect to the experience that’s offered by the extraordinary business and commercial complex.
“We’ve approached this project with the idea of making the shopping environment at Galerie PVM even more vibrant than it already was. By doing so, we’re delivering a first-class experience to our visitors that is unlike any other that they’ll find anywhere else in the city. Every decision that we’ve made so far has been thoughtfully arrived at, keeping the customer – the Galerie PVM visitor – at the centre of our focus. We’re really proud of the results of our efforts so far and are really looking forward to continuing our work to advance Place Ville Marie’s reputation as a world-class destination for everyone to enjoy.”