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Union Station in Toronto Launches Summer Activations as New Retailers are Added [Interviews]

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Toronto’s Union Station is alive with activity this summer as people come out to participate in more personal experiences in the post-pandemic period.

TD Union Summer has returned for its fifth anniversary with food vendors and 63 days of live music and performances, feature films, and games nights right in the heart of the city. 

The annual outdoor summer festival brings together locals, tourists, friends, families and features an eclectic mix of summer and street food from Gus Tacos, Mikey’s Smashburgers, Naansense by Butter Chicken Roti, Souvla by Mamakas, and drinks by Moosehead at the TrulyTO bar. 

Jessica Lemire, Manager of Marketing Activations and Event Sponsorship, said Union Summer is inspired by the convergence of food, art and culture and is designed to give people a chance to connect with each other and everything that the city has to offer through its showcase of local and international artists. It strives to create an experience that is both welcoming and accessible, while offering free programming that is a reflection of Union’s commitment to celebrate the diversity of the city it lives and works in.

Union Summer launched on June 27 outside on Front Street and will run until August 28.

TD Union Summer at Union Station (Image: Spring Morris / Union Station)
TD Union Holiday at Union Station (Image: Spring Morris / Union Station)

Union Holiday, also presented by TD, is the annual free outdoor skating rink experience designed to bring a bit of magic to Front Street to celebrate the holiday season. The plaza will be transformed from an outdoor patio to a full skating rink within months. Union Holiday is the first of its kind to offer not only a free skating rink, but free skate rentals and lessons in Toronto.  The idea and concept of the ice rink was conceived by the Programming and Special Events Team at Union Station to create a special experience that allows participants to immerse themselves in the experience in an environment that welcomes all levels and lets everyone enjoy a quintessential Canadian pastime. More information to come on this.

Jessica Lemire

These two programs are a focal point for connecting communities and arts and cultural placemaking in a public space, said Lemire. 

“To us, Union Station is more than just a transit hub in the downtown core. To the hundreds of thousands of people who walk through the doors of this national historic building each day, it may be a means of getting from one place to another, but it is also an opportunity for exploration and connection between arrivals and departures. Union strives to be one of the world’s most engaging civic experiences – bringing compelling retail and cultural experiences all under one roof,” she said. 

“From national brands to independent start-ups, acclaimed artist to emerging talent, its Beaux-Arts architecture in the Great Hall and preserved original 1927 storefronts to the 210 biomorphic pods adorning the ceiling of the Union Food Court and its innovations in the digital space, Union offers commuters and visitors a blend of history, discovery and culture. In addition to being an operational train station for local, regional, and national services and a retail destination, Union has a multidisciplinary programming department that offers free public events year long. Led by the Executive Director of Programming, Syma Shah, the programming vision comes to life through artistic installations, performances, exhibits, marquis events and cultural partnerships with local and international organizations.” 

Davids Tea Pop-up at Union Station (Image: Union Station)
Jessica Lemire (Manager, Marketing Activations & Event Sponsorship), Syma Shah (Executive Director, Programming and Special Events), Julia Rocchi (Associate, Events and Production)
Kim Gravel (Director, Events), Alexa Polenz (Manager, Brand and Partnership) Not pictured: Danielle Arsenault (Associate, Events and Production)

Lemire joined Union in 2016 after moving to Toronto from Montreal and while commuting through the Station each day, she thought that a dynamic and fluid approach to retail would best fit a building with significant returning traffic. 

“From there, I developed a few programs that are ultimately designed to enhance people’s experience through rotating pop-ups and sampling activations that would entice people to stray from their regular patterns and bring in Torontonians and tourists into the Station that would otherwise not necessarily have gone down to Union. We carefully select our pop-ups to bring in exciting, unique, and exclusive concepts, which includes working with national brands like Louis Vuitton, OREO, SodaStream, DAZN, Kombi, M&Ms, and Bauer,” she said. 

“When a brand approaches us to host a pop-up at Union, we work hand-in-hand with them to brainstorm ideas that will make commuters want to skip their train and catch the next one! We also believe in the concept of city-building through support of local independent brands. Having access to such a busy location with impressive foot traffic, we wanted to provide the opportunity for smaller brands to be featured, which is why you’ll see startups, entrepreneurs or artisans in the space throughout the year as well. Union is a place of discovery and adventure and is ever-evolving to meet the needs and interests of Torontonians, and we follow that vision all the way into our pop-up store.” 

Union Station Sephora (Image: Arash Moallemi / Sephora Canada)
Decathon City at Union Station facade (Image: Decathlon Canada)

Marcelle Rademeyer, Founding Partner and CEO at Beauleigh, a retail consulting and brokerage firm, said the company has continued to focus and evolve leasing efforts at Union Station based on the vision created at the inception of the retail redevelopment plan. 

“The merchandising strategy was targeted on securing unique, first to market and sought-after independent operators, who represent the ethnic and cultural mosaic that Toronto is. The goal (is) to give the commuters, tourists, visitors, and residents of Toronto a taste of what the city has to offer. As well, we’ve strategically positioned national and international anchor retailers such as Sephora, Decathlon, % Arabica, Fika, and LCBO along the Bay St Promenade corridor. These efforts continue to solidify this major transportation hub as a world-class destination.” 

Marcelle Rademeyer

With the opening of some of its new retailers like the LCBO, Decathlon and Sephora, Union Station is attracting more high-profile brands than it did five years ago, added Lemire. 

“They are all very keen on working with our team to develop programs, experiential events, pop-ups and activations, and we’ve done a great job at elevating concepts that are presented to meet the needs and vision of the station. Louis Vuitton had their Time Capsule Exhibit that debuted in Hong Kong in 2017 and touched down in 17 cities including Los Angeles, Shanghai, Dubai, Singapore and Union in Toronto. As soon as I saw it, I knew we needed to have this here. They were revisiting the brand’s landmark innovations in technology, travel and design since 1854, and there was no better fit than our historic transportation hub to host this phenomenal museum of luxury,” she said. 

“We worked with them to feature pieces from their archives that were more focused on travel and we even had a pop-up store where all items were under $300, for those looking for a souvenir or gift home. Most recently, we’ve worked with Bauer Hockey on a sponsorship for our Union Holiday skating rink, which was topped with an exclusive “Beyond the Rink” pop-up store in the Front Street Promenade. We’ve had the pleasure of hosting Johnnie Walker’s engraving and tasting pop-up two years in a row in partnership with Vibrant Marketing and Diageo inside the station for the holidays, while outside on the plaza, we had the largest LEGO Mystery Mural in the western hemisphere, curated specifically for Union Station. These pop-ups by high profile brands are something we love seeing at Union and that commuters truly enjoy, but it’s also a great way for us to bring people into the Station and letting them discover what retail and cultural programming we have to offer.”

Johnnie Walker at Union Holiday (Image: Spring Morris / Union Station)

Elena Price, General manager at Union Station, said that at the height of the pandemic Union Station was severely impacted by the absence of transit-users passing through the Station. Before that, the Station was frequented by office tower workers, support staff, students, sports enthusiasts, restaurant goers, and tourists, to name a few.  

“During the pandemic, our restaurants and food vendors experienced all the same closures and restrictions as major shopping locations across the province.  By Q2 2022, there was only one permanent closure . .  . The vendors of Union Station have begun to recover as traffic increases and the Toronto downtown core comes back to life.  Overall sales are over 50 per cent of comparable 2019 sales, and June sales were 20 per cent over the previous month,” she said. 

Elena Price-Bozzelli

“Over the past two years, when the Station was quiet and visitors were absent, the revitalization construction project at Union Station moved forward delivering the transformation started nearly a decade ago. Today, people coming back through the Station after a two-year hiatus are discovering the new Union Station. It’s encouraging to see people’s reactions to the new Bay Promenade wing, especially hearing “someone built a mall inside Union Station”.   

“With SEPHORA and LCBO already open, Decathlon, TD Bank and a Dental Studio preparing to open in Q3, followed by the re-opening of our Foodie Aisle mid-September, and several more tenants in Q4, the 2022 holiday season will offer so many new and exciting shopping options.  Our team is preparing for the launch of our Fresh Market in Q1 2023, welcoming over 25 new specialty food tenants in 38,000 square feet of new retail space. Looking forward, Union Station’s transformation will redefine how millions experience their entry into the Toronto’s downtown core, as this is the gateway into North America’s fourth largest metropolis. It’s truly an exciting time at Union Station, and we are definitely back on track.”

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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