Birks Shuts Downtown Winnipeg Store and Exits Market After 120 Years: Interview with CEO Jean-Christophe Bédos

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Birks Group has closed its downtown Winnipeg Maison Birks store after decades of being in business in the Manitoba city.

The location on Lombard Avenue shut down at the end of March as the Canadian jewellery retailer continues to focus on building the brand in the major markets of Canada.

In an interview with Retail Insider, Jean-Christophe Bédos, President and CEO, Birks Group, said: “The store came to the end of its lease. We want to focus our efforts and development in the larger urban centres in Quebec, Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta.

“Thanks to a great partner we have in Winnipeg, they’re called Independent Jewellers, they distribute the Birks brand in their stores and then of course we keep serving our clients by the internet, by e-commerce. So we felt we didn’t need to renew the lease, renovate the store for another seven to 10 years. So it coincided with our strategy to concentrate on the large urban centres.”

Photo: Manitoba Historical Society

Bédos said Birks has had a partnership with Independent Jewellers for about four years.

Birks opened the store on Main Street in Winnipeg in 1903. It was the second store that Birks ever opened outside of Montreal, (following the opening of the Ottawa store in 1901). In 1911, Birks moved the Winnipeg store to the corner of Portage and Smith, formerly the YMCA building, and later moved again to 191 Lombard Ave.

“We will open or close stores depending on how things go. We are not just closing stores. We’re considering opening stores and also when it makes sense and again working on executing the strategy of ours,” said  Bédos. “So if we close stores it will be only because the market is changing and stores are becoming less relevant. Of course, if a store becomes less profitable then of course we would close less profitable stores but that’s not the case with our stores. At least currently.”

Recently, Birks relocated its Maison Birks store to a bigger location in CF Chinook Centre in Calgary and the retailer has undertaken significant renovations at its CF Carrefour Laval store near Montreal which will be unveiled later this spring.

Birks is a leading Canadian retailer and designer of fine jewellery, timepieces and gifts since 1879. The company operates 22 Maison Birks stores across Canada, including flagship locations in Calgary, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.

The 4,174-square-foot Maison Birks store at CF Chinook Centre , features a 1,117-square-foot Rolex Showroom with a VIP area.

In a previous interview with Retail Insider,  Bédos said Birks has additional stores it wants to renovate as well as some markets it wants to enter.

“There is a significant shift in the consumer behaviour for luxury goods. We are closing markets and we are opening new markets. We definitely see that the market is growing and it’s an evolution that we have our thumb on that post to really be present where the consumer spending is growing,” explained Bédos.

“For Canada what’s happening our observation is that the Canadian market’s becoming more and more urban in the spending. Four or five major hubs, clusters of luxury. The cities like Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal are clearly growing for the market. We see significant investments in retail from international brands.

“We see also Alberta with Calgary and Edmonton becoming strong and those areas see a significant arrival of new Canadians and new residents who come from countries where the luxury brands are present and they expect those brands to be present in the markets where they decide to become residents in Canada.”

Bédos said in the past what had been missing in Canada was the international calibre of the retail experience especially in downtown areas and top quality shopping centres.

With the macroeconomic tension at the moment with inflation and higher interest rates, business is not easy.

“But when you provide an experience which is worth it, worth going out of home, worth transacting somewhere else than just on the mobile phone or your desktop, this is what (retail expert) Doug Stephens called what the store has to offer more than just the website,” said Bédos.

“The people go out and enjoy it. You see the transformation of downtown Toronto with Yorkville and Bloor. Yorkdale is a great example. We see also the great example in Vancouver and Vancouver is going to soon have a new Oakridge store which is going to be a significant value proposition for consumers. People will go there. When there is something interesting, they go and shop.”

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. Mario was named as a RETHINK Retail Top Retail Expert in 2024.

1 COMMENT

  1. Thus confirming the opinion of a previous interviewee in a report that appeared here on a major development planned for Winnipeg’s Polo Park. The developer quoted in the interview stated bluntly that relative to retail, downtown Winnipeg is irrelevant. The city’s residents avoid it. What would it take to bring back shoppers to the area?

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