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Saks Fifth Avenue Partially Renovates Downtown Toronto Flagship Store [Photos]

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Saks Fifth Avenue has partially renovated its Canadian flagship store in downtown Toronto. Some departments have been moved around after several luxury brands exited the store earlier this year, including four concessions. 

The downtown Toronto Saks Fifth Avenue store opened in February 2016. The three-floor store was made possible by carving out about 125,000 square feet of the eastern portion of the Hudson’s Bay flagship store at the southwest corner of Yonge and Queen Streets. Both stores are technically part of the CF Toronto Eaton Centre complex after Cadillac Fairview acquired the building and adjacent office tower in 2014. Toronto-based Pusateri’s Fine Foods also operates a 24,000 square foot branded ‘Saks Food Hall’ in the basement below the Saks fashion store. 

When Saks opened in 2016 it housed concession boutique spaces for Louis Vuitton and Saint Laurent on the street level, as well as Dior which had a street level accessories concession and a women’s fashion boutique on the third floor. All brands shut their concessions earlier in the year and now the Saks store functions a bit differently. 

Queen Street facade of the combined Saks/Hudson’s Bay in downtown Toronto. From the late 1800s until 1991 it was a Simpsons store. Photo: Dustin Fuhs
Shared marble-clad lobby on the street level of the Hudson’s Bay building — a concierge desk was recently removed. Saks is on the left and Hudson’s Bay is on the right. Photo: Dustin Fuhs

The differences begin in the marble-clad Queen Street entry foyer which is shared by Hudson’s Bay and Saks. A long concierge desk was recently removed from the joint lobby area. Walking into the Saks store on the left, one enters a new street level women’s shoe department that is located where women’s handbags and accessories were until a few weeks ago. A sales associate explained that women’s shoes were moved downstairs from a former home on the second floor (branded 10022-SHOES) to be closer to handbags. 

The former street-level 1,200 square foot Louis Vuitton boutique, which had a corner presence with windows facing both Yonge and Queen Street, has been converted to a sunglass and accessories shop for women. Accessories such as fur hats and scarves were formerly housed on the second level. Fur is one category that Saks still sells after competitor Holt Renfrew dropped fur from its stores, including for its concession partners, at the beginning of the year. However by the end of this year, Saks has also mandated the end of selling fur in it stores.

The former Dior bag and accessory shop on the main floor of Saks was downsized and is now branded Alexander McQueen, featuring handbags and accessories. Next to it is a new small Versace handbag shop in part of a space formerly occupied by a larger Celine handbag boutique. Space behind the smaller McQueen and Versace shops is being used for shoe storage.

The former Saint Laurent handbag concession now houses Balenciaga bags and accessories in a space that saw a minor renovation that included removing YSL’s trademark marble walls. There were rumours a few months ago that Balenciaga would exit the downtown Saks store after opening two standalone storefronts in the city.

New street level women’s footwear department. Photo: Craig Patterson
Former Louis Vuitton concession at Saks Toronto. The space has been painted a lighter colour and Vuitton’s floors remain. Photo: Dustin Fuhs
The new main floor McQueen and Versace bag shops. Space behind them is now storage for the new women’s shoe department. Photo: Dustin Fuhs
New Balenciaga shop on the main floor of Saks Toronto, replacing a Saint Laurent concession that shut several months ago. Photo: Craig Patterson
Women’s main floor footwear with jewellery shops behind. Photo: Craig Patterson

Other main floor boutiques including Bottega Veneta, Chloe, Valentino, Birks, and Chopard remain, as is a concession for Prada bags and accessories. During the pandemic a Piaget jewellery concession was converted to a consignment model. More jewellery brands are available on the main floor near women’s shoes. The store’s street level beauty hall looks essentially the same as it did when the store opened almost seven years ago, though Aesop exited a while ago and a new Byredo counter was added. 

Saks’ second floor is now devoted entirely to menswear — from 2016 until recently, women’s footwear was located on the second floor as well as some accessories. Now men’s footwear occupies the entire 8,000 square foot former 10022-SHOE space, becoming the largest men’s luxury shoe floor in Canada. The adjacent former women’s accessories area is now dedicated to men’s accessories such as hats, gloves and scarves. 

Moving women’s shoes downstairs disrupts the original planned flow for the combined Saks/Hudson’s Bay building. When Retail Insider toured the store prior to opening in February of 2016, a representative explained how the Saks women’s shoe department on the second floor was strategically located next to Hudson’s Bay’s women’s shoe department to create proximity and facilitate cross-shopping of both stores by consumers. The same was done on the main floor with the Saks and Hudson’s Bay beauty halls being adjacent, as well as the third-floor Saks/Hudson’s Bay women’s contemporary fashion offerings being in adjacent spaces. 

New second floor men’s footwear department. Photo: Dustin Fuhs
Second floor men’s designer fashions in a rounded space formerly housing shoes. Photo: Dustin Fuhs
New second floor men’s accessories area — the space had women’s accessories prior to the department reorganization. Photo: Craig Patterson
Second floor entrance into Saks from Hudson’s Bay. Photo: Dustin Fuhs

The former circular men’s footwear space on the second floor of Saks has been converted into an area for men’s designer fashions, with big-name brands including Balmain, Versace and Fendi. The former footwear space had been modelled on a renovation to the Michigan Avenue Saks store in Chicago, and was copied at Saks in Calgary but with a much smaller selection of brands being available. In Toronto, Saks has a surprisingly robust assortment of men’s luxury brands on its second level which spans more than 30,000 square feet. 

The women’s third floor at Saks has also seen some changes, though not as drastic as on the other two levels. We reported earlier this fall that Burberry had exited its women’s fashion boutique space on the third floor of Saks after Burberry pulled its wholesale accounts in Canada to instead operate standalone stores and concessions. A Ralph Lauren women’s fashion boutique now occupies the former third floor Burberry space, with the same design and even the same light green carpet that Burberry had been using.

The former Dior women’s fashion concession on the third floor is now home to a Moncler jacket boutique for women, while a women’s Brunello Cucinelli boutique space recently opened next to it. The former Dior space is for the most part unchanged despite being branded Moncler. Most of the third floor remains relatively unchanged otherwise from prior to the pandemic with boutiques for brands including Valentino, Balenciaga, McQueen, Givenchy and Dolce & Gabbana. Some shoppers may scratch their heads when they see signage near the escalators on the third floor announcing ‘Barneys at Saks’ — while the signage was added during the pandemic, only two brands occupy the area which feels nothing like the Barneys at Saks which takes up an entire floor at the Saks flagship in Manhattan. 

In 2021, a Saint Laurent women’s ready-to-wear boutique space shut on the third floor and was replaced by Balmain. A fur salon also recently shut ahead of Saks removing fur from its stores entirely.

New third floor Ralph Lauren shop where Burberry was located until a few weeks ago, with Burberry’s light green carpet. Ralph Lauren will also be opening standalone stores in Canada starting in 2023. Photo: Craig Patterson
New third floor women’s Brunello Cucinelli boutique. Photo: Dustin Fuhs
New third floor women’s Moncler boutique in a space formerly occupied by a women’s Dior ready-to-wear concession. Photo: Dustin Fuhs

Other changes to the Toronto Saks store include reduced hours — several months ago Saks reduced its hours to the current 11:00am to 6:00pm daily. The adjacent Hudson’s Bay store is still open from 10:00am to 9:00pm daily other than Sundays, creating a somewhat awkward situation for shoppers looking to visit both stores in the evening hours or before 11:00am.

Several weeks ago a security guard was positioned near a second-level pedway from CF Toronto Eaton Centre into Saks, and now bronze metal gates block off the Saks store when it shuts at 6:00pm daily. Several weeks ago, as well, three plexiglass security gates were installed in the second-level lobby area shared by Saks and Hudson’s Bay that leads into the pedway to CF Toronto Eaton Centre, as per the photo below.

Closing early – gates shut at Saks Fifth Avenue at 6pm while the adjacent Hudson’s Bay store is still open. The three plexiglass security gates are also new. Photo: Dustin Fuhs

Saks Fifth Avenue also operates two other full-priced standalone stores in Canada, in Toronto and Calgary. The second Toronto Saks location opened in March of 2016 at CF Sherway Gardens in Toronto, also containing a Pusateri’s-operated Saks-branded grocery store. A menswear department adjacent to Pusateri’s at Sherway has since been relocated upstairs after the store was downsized. 

In Calgary, Saks Fifth Avenue operates a 115,000 square foot store at CF Chinook Centre which opened in February of 2018. The store lacks a grocery component. Last month Retail Insider had an opportunity to visit the Calgary Saks store which was surprisingly lacking in product in its men’s and women’s fashion departments.

The opening hours for the CF Sherway Gardens and CF Chinook Centre Saks Fifth Avenue stores are interesting. Both stores are open just six hours a day, from 12 Noon to 6:00pm, seven days a week. The typical mall retail opening hours at both CF Sherway Gardens and CF Chinook Centre are from 10:00am to 9:00pm Monday-Saturday and from 10:00am to 6:00pm Sundays.

Barneys but not really — signage for ‘Barneys at Saks’ which has just two designers, and is nothing like the Barneys at Saks in Manhattan which occupies an entire floor. Photo: Dustin Fuhs

Saks was supposed to open about 10 luxury stores in Canada but subsequently halted the expansion. Plans had included a 200,000 square foot Saks store that was supposed to open within the Hudson’s Bay building in downtown Montreal in the fall of 2018, as well as at least one Saks Fifth Avenue store in the Vancouver market. Plans for the Montreal store were shelved in 2018.

In the United States, Saks Fifth Avenue has found success in some markets while it has struggled in others. As a result, many Saks stores have opened and closed in the United States since the 1990s. Most recently, a location in downtown Cincinnati was announced to be closing by the end of this year. The most recent opening was a 113,000 square foot Saks store at American Dream in New Jersey and in Beverly Hills, CA, Saks will relocate into a former 125,000 square foot Barneys location on Wilshire Boulevard. Saks Fifth Avenue currently operates three stores in Canada and 39 in the US, as well as two partner stores in Bahrain and Kazakhstan. Saks Fifth Avenue was founded in New York City in 1867 and continues to operate a 650,000 square foot flagship store on Fifth Avenue which is said to be responsible for more than 20% of the company’s sales. 

Third floor women’s designer department. Photo: Dustin Fuhs

Toronto has five full-sized luxury department stores, boasting the highest number of any city in Canada, by far. That includes Holt Renfrew and Saks Fifth Avenue. Downtown Toronto is home to a 190,000 square foot Holt Renfrew’s flagship that is also seeing a partial renovation that will eventually see a new men’s floor and expanded women’s contemporary floor. Holt Renfrew features numerous luxury brand concessions with the world’s top names, and is much busier than the downtown Saks. Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre is home to another 130,000 square foot Holt Renfrew store, housing many luxury brands and with sales in the hundreds of millions of dollars annually. Another beautiful 140,000 square foot Holt Renfrew store in Mississauga isn’t as busy as the one at Yorkdale, but it still features an expansive range of luxury brands in an impressive marble-clad space. The 143,000 square foot Saks at CF Sherway, located a few kilometres away, competes with Holts and is a very nice looking store. 

Vancouver, Calgary, and Montreal are the only other cities in Canada with large luxury stores — Calgary has two (Holts and Saks) and Vancouver and Montreal are both home to one large Holt Renfrew store. Vancouver’s Nordstrom store is also seeing success with its expansive offering of luxury brands, including several branded shop-in-stores. Nordstrom’s other Canadian stores are not faring nearly as well. In Toronto, almost all of the luxury brands that opened in the CF Toronto Eaton Centre Nordstrom store in 2016 are no longer there, and five of the six original women’s luxury brand shop-in-stores at Nordstrom Yorkdale have shut since it opened in 2016. Nordstrom also operates smaller luxury-light stores in Calgary, Ottawa and at Toronto’s CF Sherway Gardens. 

Queen Street subway entrance beside Saks Fifth Avenue on October 30, 2022 — cleanliness is a challenge in the area. Photo: Dustin Fuhs

The competition is particularly fierce in Toronto, which has become the centre of luxury retail in Canada with an ever-growing number of standalone luxury stores. Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre is leading the way with new luxury stores opening regularly. Toronto’s Bloor-Yorkville is also seeing interest from luxury brands, with more large flagship stores said to be on the way. CF Toronto Eaton Centre has struggled in terms of seeing the same luxury shopping dollars. It lacks valet parking, including at Saks where plans to have valet parking were dashed when the city mandated a bike lane on Richmond Street. 

Vagrancy and cleanliness are among the challenges in the area surrounding CF Toronto Eaton Centre, turning off some of the city’s wealthy. The area is still very popular with the millions of people who come down to shop and be entertained, though Rosedale matrons are more likely to venture to nearby Yorkville, or to Yorkdale which offers top brands in a climate-controlled environment. 

Article Author

Craig Patterson
Craig Patterson
Located in Toronto, Craig is the Publisher & CEO of Retail Insider Media Ltd. He is also a retail analyst and consultant, Advisor at the University of Alberta School Centre for Cities and Communities in Edmonton, former lawyer and a public speaker. 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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3 COMMENTS

  1. Interesting updates to the store! Neat seeing the photos of the new setup. The competition is pretty tight in Canada. Disappointing that the store isn’t as grand as it could be. Saks should really move and open up at Yorkdale. 😀 Probably too hard to compete against Holts there now though. Would make a great podcast episode 😉 Wonder if they had a deal with CF to keep those stores at CF Toronto Eaton Centre and Sherway for a certain period of time.

  2. I think you’re right about luxury shoppers being reluctant to come down to Queen Street. Saks is coming up against the limits of the Canadian market AND Holt Renfrew’s apparently successful strategy to consolidate its locations and concentrate on a comprehensive offering at each of its stores. It has maintained its dominance of the Canadian luxury niche. Saks backed down when it saw what Holt’s was doing at the old Ogilvy store on Sainte Catherine Street in Montreal, and it cancelled its plans for expansion there and elsewhere. There’s no place for them to go other than where they are already, unless they want to chance Oakridge in Vancouver, West Edmonton Mall, or under-construction Royalmount in Montreal.

  3. Locating Saks downtown at CFEC was the first mistake that will never be overcome. Luxury shoppers won’t venture down to spend thousands there when they can shop in Yorkville or at Yorkdale, as the article suggests. Both Saks and Nordstrom are on life support and I suspect will not ultimately survive. Saks should have opened at Yonge and Bloor in the former Hudson’s Bay, giving Holt’s a run for its money.

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