Thursday, 5 December 2013

Neighbourhood: Toronto Shopkeeper Explores Liberty Village

Where once factories rumbled, now condos and shops thrive.

51 Hanna Avenue
If you were to go back 50 years and tell a Torontonian that you lived in Liberty Village you'd be greeted with a blank stare. Back then the area which would later become known as Liberty Village (the moniker was bestowed by property developers seeking to spur gentrification of the neighbourhod) was once one of Toronto's most industrial.

Liberty Village's industrial past grew out of it's location along the city's main railway lines. Factories making everything from carpets and baking powder to toys and farm equipment once kept the streets alive with manufacturing. The Inglis plant alone once employed over 17,000 people at its peak (I now understand how that Inglis billboard visible from the Gardiner Expressway came to be). The site of the current Lamport Stadium once housed the Andrew Mercer Reformatory for Women and nearby was the Central Prison for Men, Liberty Street being where freed prisoners would step back into their normal lives.

By the 1980s, most industry had abandoned the area in favour of cheaper premises either off shore or in the suburbs. Artists began to move in attracted by the light filled former industrial spaces and the affordable rents. Developers took advantage of the trend for loft living and converted many of the remaining buildings into condos, shops, and galleries. The result is a mixed use neighbourhood with both newly built condominiums and repurposed industrial buildings.

Roughly defined, Liberty Village encompasses the area bordered by King Street, Dufferin Street, the Gardiner Expressway, and Strachan Avenue.

The Liberty Market Building (171 East Liberty Street) houses 300,000 square feet of retail and commercial space on the south side of Liberty Village and includes several historic buildings. Much of the site was used for gun manufacturing during the Second World War. The Galleria that runs through the building once carried trains used to deliver supplies and collect the arms being manufactured there.

At the east end of the Liberty Market Building you'll find Casalife (unit 170), a large home store selling the perfect mix of condo-sized furnishings and home accessories. The retailer stocks a comprehensive selection of barstools as many of the small neighbourhood condos feature breakfast bars rather than dining rooms.

The Village Cheesemonger
Walking west you'll stumble upon The Village Cheesemonger (unit 155). The shop carries over a hundred varieties of cheeses from around the globe as well as a selection of gourmet treats for your pantry; everything you'll need to fill the cheese board at your next dinner party.

Demo Soap
Continuing down the Galleria discover Demo Soap (Unit 171), a unique purveyor of handmade soaps and bath bombs. The fragrant store is decorated with vintage sound systems (which are unfortunately not for sale) and sells soaps with a wide variety of fragrances and shapes. Their soaps are vegetable based and hand cut on site.

Shoppers looking to oufit their new condo are well served at EQ3 (51 Hanna Avenue). The two-storey outpost features home accessories on the ground level and furniture upstairs. This location features a Marimekko shop with colourfully designed bedding, pillows, and tableware.
West Elm
Nearby you'll find West Elm (109 Atlantic Avenue), the only Toronto location for Pottery Barn's urban sister. Available here is a wide selection of modern furniture, home accessories, and rugs. Their new Market concept features a range of kitchen tools, cookware, and gifts.

Grab a bite: Finish your day of shopping with dinner at Origin (Unit 100 at the Liberty Market Building) where the global menu is served in the former Bren gun factory; or enjoy a cold beer and a signature burger at Williams Landing (120 Lynn Williams Street); or sample the seasonally inspired menu at Mildred's Template Kitchen (85 Hanna Avenue). If you're visiting in the morning, check out School for their brunch menu and freshly baked treats.

[Click here for an informative walking tour by the Liberty Village BIA]

Sunday, 1 December 2013

News: Saks Fifth Avenue Coming to Bloor Street

Hudson's Bay to convert Bloor Street store to Saks banner.

Hudson's Bay Bloor Street

Last week in an article in the Globe and Mail, Hudson's Bay Company CEO and majority owner Richard Baker confirmed new plans for the retailer's Bloor Street location. The article's author viewed a rendering which showed the store "sleekly redesigned, with a white façade and large sheets of glass at the front. And it prominently displays a new name: Saks Fifth Avenue."

Baker said the Canadian flagship will be the second-largest Saks store in the world (after the New York City location) and at 342,000 square feet nearly twice as large as the nearby Holt Renfrew.

Prior to the conversion of Simpson's Queen Street into The Bay in 1991, the Bloor Street location was the retailer's Toronto flagship. Part of the Hudson's Bay Centre, the store opened in 1974 as the anchor tenant in a complex that includes a 35 storey office tower, a Marriott hotel, condos, and sits atop the city's busiest subway station Bloor-Yonge. The store currently carries a full assortment of departments including furniture, appliances, and a restaurant through six storeys of selling space.

The renovation is expected to cost up to $100 million as the store will need to undergo significant modification. The store currently has low ceiling heights and an awkward maze-like interior layout. A big positive is the store's location at a busy intersection and a huge boom in local development (the large 1 Bloor East is currently under construction across the street).

Baker confirmed that up to eight Saks stores are planned for Canada and that he is currently negotiating for space at Sherway Gardens and Yorkdale. Also on the drawing board is the potential conversion of The Room at Hudson's Bay to Saks departments. Recently HBC appointed former Harrods executive Marigay McKee to president at Saks, and she will help oversee the forthcoming changes at Saks.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Preview: What could Westbank have in mind for Honest Ed's?

As reported recently, real estate developer Westbank has secured the Honest Ed's site at Bloor and Bathurst. The developer is a new entrant into Toronto's hot real estate market. Their first property was the luxurious 700 foot tall Shangri-La Hotel on University Avenue. But what could Westbank have in store for the iconic Honest Ed's?

Toronto's Shangri-La Hotel

Westbank was established in 1992 and has over $10 billion in either completed or developed projects, primarily in Western Canada. Its projects include condominiums, commercial real estate, and retail (where the company's roots lay, as it started off developing shopping centres). It is widely considered to be a high end development company.

One of the most interesting retail related projects that Westbank has undertaken was the redevelopment of Vancouver's flagship Woodward's department store site. The now defunct Woodward's chain was a mainstay of retail life in British Columbia until it folded in 1993. The Woodward's building in the Downtown Eastside was a local landmark but fell into disrepair and was abandoned after the company's closure.

Vancouver Woodward's
Westbank was selected to redevelop the Woodward's site. The end result (which included demolishing most of the Woodward's building) was over one million square feet of mixed-use development including residential, institutional, and retail space. Also included were apartment units at below market rates that aimed to create an inclusive development.

Part of the Woodward's project included retaining the retailer's iconic W sign. Perhaps when it comes time for Westbank to put their stamp on their Honest Ed's redevelopment, they might incorporate some of the retailer's own iconic signage.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Review: Toronto Shopkeeper Shops AllSaints

Edgy British brand makes its Canadian debut at Yorkdale.

Location: AllSaints, Yorkdale (3401 Dufferin Street, Toronto, ON)

Yorkdale has increasingly become a destination for first to market retailers in Canada and this spring AllSaints opened its first Canadian location there. The store opening marks a new wave of expansion for the retailer which has rebounded after suffering financial difficulties in 2011.

AllSaints is a brand with a finely tuned DNA, a British label that is both classic and trendy with a healthy dollop of vintage; a look that is echoed in its store design. Heavily influenced by an edgy London street aesthetic, AllSaints has a decidedly muted colour palette. Lovers of patterns or colour are advised that the new Kate Spade store is a few doors down.

Design: The AllSaints store measures 6,000 square feet and is found in the mall's recent southern expansion. Entering the store you pass under a wall of glassed-in vintage sewing machines (this quirky touch is repeated in all their stores and one imagines they must have a team scouring antique markets for vintage Singer sewing machines).

The store has a dimly lit loft/factory feel. The rails are distressed pipes, and the display tables look like clothes could have been sewn atop them (maybe with one of those Singer sewing machines). Underfoot is a distressed wooden flooring and the walls feature metal beams framing painted brick. Design wise the store is more Ossington Avenue than Yorkdale but provides a welcome dose of urbanity in suburbia.

Merchandise: To paraphrase Henry Ford, they have a garment in every colour you could want as long as its black. While the merchandise veers very heavily towards black, grey, and beige that is in many ways the whole point of the AllSaints brand. Basics with an edgy twist, signature leather jackets, and jeans with just the right amount of "wearing in." The target customer seems to be a hipster with cash who appreciates good design and isn't shy about paying for it.

Service: Unfortunately unique shop design and a compelling product offering are no substitution for great service. Visiting on a Saturday morning the store was fully staffed with a smattering of customers browsing. Passing three associates no one offered a greeting, nor when browsing the merchandise was any assistance offered. A second visit during the week offered an equally disinterested level of service which was hopefully both coincidental and atypical. 

Online: AllSaints excels with its online presence and offers shopping in Canadian dollars. Its website is easy to navigate with full collections for both men and women and provides the customer with immersion into the brand. Currently it's highlighting the new women's shoe collection with a series of unique films called "Below the Knee."

Grade: 55%

Lost marks for: A decidedly cool (in more ways than one) level of service which unfortunately detracts from many of the positive aspects of the brand.

Gained marks for: A great store design that really captures the urban essence of the brand, well designed and consistent collections, and an immersive website experience that makes buying that leather jacket a slightly friendlier experience than that found in store.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

News: Chapters Closing Historic Runnymede Theatre Location

Shoppers Drug Mart reported to be new tenant at iconic Bloor West Village theatre.

Fifteen years ago when Chapters announced it was moving into the historic Runnymede Theatre in Bloor West Village, residents were in an uproar. Locals feared the retailer known for its suburban big box bookstores would desecrate the beloved local landmark. Fortunately those worries were ill-founded when Chapters sympathetically installed their store into the theatre.

The view from the balcony level
Now Chapters Indigo has confirmed that they will be closing their Runnymede location once their lease expires in the new year. The theatre's owner is reportedly increasing the rent and Shoppers Drug Mart is confirmed to be relocating their neighbourhood store to the theatre.

The stage now houses books and magazine
The Runnymede Theatre was built in 1927 as an "atmospheric" vaudeville theatre with a ceiling featuring a faux night sky complete with stars. It was designed by Alfred Chapman, a Toronto architect who also worked on the Royal Ontario Museum. Click here for an article about the theatre by Toronto Heritage.

Original theatre seats are reused through the store

When Chapters moved into the space they restored the interior to its 1920s heyday. The balcony was turned into a playful children's book area; the stage became accessible and now houses magazine and books; and original theatre seats were repurposed throughout the store to provide seating to browsers.

One hopes that when Shoppers Drug Mart moves in they will be as sympathetic and diligent a caretaker of the building's heritage as Chapters has been. The Toronto Star has quoted Shoppers Drug Mart as saying "We will be retaining all of the existing historical features, interior and exterior, including the stage and interior walls."

Saturday, 2 November 2013

News: Birks Rebrands with a New Name, Visual Identity, & Store Concept

Maison Birks has recently unveiled its new corporate identity and the first of its monobrand stores.
New Birks monobrand store at Mapleview
Founded in 1879 in Montreal as Henry Birks & Sons, Birks has grown to become Canada's premier jeweller. It's name change to Maison Birks is meant to refer to the company's rich legacy as it approaches its 135th anniversary. The diamond shaped logo is meant to reference the Canadian diamonds for which the company is known. The logo is at the heart of a new kaleidoscope pattern that is appearing in new advertising, in stores, and on the company's website.

New Birks name and logo
"Birks has been a household name in Montreal and in the rest of Canada for nearly 135 years, and it remains the reference in terms of quality and prestige for consumers and connoisseurs across the country. While attesting to our rich history, the new corporate identity rejuvenates Maison Birks' brand proposition, and allows Canadians to discover Maison Birks in all its purity. This is a historic moment for our company," declared Jean-Christophe Bédos, President and CEO of Birks Group Inc.

Maison Birks corporate parent Birks & Mayors also underwent a name change and will now be known as Birks Group Inc. The company operates Maison Birks stores across Canada, Mayors jewellery stores in the United States, and Brinkhaus in Vancouver and Calgary.

Along with that new branding Maison Birks is introducing new monobrand stores (stores that only sell Birks branded jewellery), one of the first has recently opened at Mapleview Shopping Centre in Burlington.

Maison Birks also has announced that early in the new year it will be opening its first location in China. The store will be the jeweller's first outside of North American and will be situated in central Beijing. 

[Images via Maison Birks]

Thursday, 31 October 2013

News: Hudson's Bay Reveals Sochi 2014 Canadian Olympic Gear

New collection aims to celebrate Canada while spreading the Olympic spirit.
Canadian athletes model the 2014 Sochi collection.
Hudson's Bay, the official outfitter of the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic teams has unveiled their official Olympic collections. The retailer will be dressing Canada's teams and now is offering all Canadians the chance to be a part of the Olympic moment.

"We're so proud to continue to be a part of the Olympic Games and are thrilled to be the Official Outfitter of the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Teams," says Bonnie Brooks, President, Hudson's Bay Company.  "As a Premier National Partner of the Canadian Olympic Committee and Canadian Paralympic Committee, we support our athletes in many ways and we are excited to witness what they will accomplish at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.  We at Hudson's Bay are fiercely proud to be Canadian and are passionate about bringing the Olympic spirit to Canadians through our clothing and we can't wait to cheer on our athletes, knowing that we CAN own the podium."

The 2014 Olympic and Paralympic Collection is meant to reflect a unique Canadian character. Key motifs in the collection include colour-blocking (using three main colours that Hudson's Bay calls Maple Leaf Red, Northern White and Winter Night Black), the maple leaf and crest symbols, and a nod towards diverse Canadian wildlife.

Stand out items include:

The Duffle Coat. A wool coat inspired by the iconic Hudson's Bay Point Blanket with large toggle buttons, $275.

The T-Shirts. Colour-blocked and solid colour t-shirts in a variety of designs, $30-35.

Reversible Down Jacket. Winter ready in red or black, with a signature crest on the sleeve, $150.

And of course ... the signature Olympic Mittens, $10.

The collection will be available at Hudson's Bay stores across Canada and at Prices range from $5-$30 for accessories, $12.99-$50 for children's wear, and $19-$275 for adult apparel (the most expensive item being the duffle coat).

The Hudson's Bay Company has been the official outfitter of Canada's Olympic and Paralympic teams since the 2006 winter games. Since beginning their partnership with the Canadian Olympic Committee, HBC has donated over $35 million to national sports organizations and recently renewed their partnership for a further eight years.

[Click here for the official HBC press release.]

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

News: Sears Confirms Details of $400 Million Deal

Sears flagship at the Toronto Eaton Centre

As Toronto Shopkeper reported yesterday, Sears Canada confirmed today the sale of 5 store leases in a transaction worth $400 million.

Sears will close their Toronto Eaton Centre, Sherway Gardens, and London-Masonville locations by February 28, 2014. A year later they will close their stores at Markham's Markville Shopping Centre and Richmond Centre in British Columbia. In total 965 associates will be affected by the closures. Sears has said qualified associates could be offered positions in other stores. All the malls in question are owned by Cadillac Fairview (except Richmond Centre which is co-owned with Ivanhoe Cambridge).

"Unlocking the value of assets is one of the three levers we have said we will use as a way to create total value for the Company," said incoming Sears CEO Douglas Campbell.  "When proposals such as this one are presented to us, we must weigh the value of the transaction against the value we will obtain from continuing to operate those stores in their current locations.  In this case, we were presented with an opportunity that gives us a significant financial benefit without changing our plans to improve the business and make Sears more relevant to Canadians. Our primary focus of creating long-term value for the Company is best approached by focusing on the basics of the business and continuing to become more relevant with Canadian consumers coast to coast."

Last month former Sears CEO Calvin McDonald resigned from the retailer in the midst of a three year planned turned around. McDonald focused on key product categories and shed store leases to some high profile Sears locations. Today's announced closings combined with those previously announced mark the company's retrenchment from some key urban markets.

"The Company will operate 111 full-line department stores after Sears vacates these five stores," continued Mr. Campbell, "which continues to be a substantial retail presence across Canada, especially in suburban and mid-size markets where Sears plays a major role in the marketplace."

When Sears acquired the bankrupt T. Eaton Company Limited in 1999, it gained entry to a number of prime urban spaces. Prior to that the retailer had operated primarily in suburban markets. The Toronto Eaton Centre and Sherway Gardens stores were both former key Eaton's stores and Sears was reported to have inherited their advantageous lease rates.

There has been intense media speculation about the future tenant (or tenants) of the Eaton Centre location with both Nordstrom and La Maison Simons being touted as most likely.

As part of the deal Sears will retain the upper four floors of the Eaton Centre location where it maintains its head office.

It was also reported today that Sears Canada's struggling US parent Sears Holdings is considering spinning off their Lands' End and Auto Center businesses.

Monday, 28 October 2013

News: Sears Selling Additional Store Leases

Toronto Eaton Centre and Sherway Gardens locations to close in 2014.
Sears flagship at the Toronto Eaton Centre
October 29th Sears Canada will officially announce that it has sold additional store leases to some of its highest profile locations.

Sears has come to an arrangement with Cadillac Fairview to sell a total of five store leases, three are in the Toronto area: Eaton Centre, Sherway Gardens, and Markville Mall. Last year it sold leases to several high profile locations paving the way for Nordstom's entry into Canada.

The Eaton Centre and Sherway Gardens locations are slated to close in February 2014, with the Markville location closing in 2015. The official announcement was delivered to Sears employees.

Last month it was announced that Sears CEO Calvin McDonald was resigning from his position at the retailer (he has since been named head of Sephora Americas). During his time at Sears, McDonald refocused on key product categories and shed store leases to such ionic Sears locations as its Vancouver Pacific Centre store. However he was reluctant to vacate the flagship location at the Toronto Eaton Centre (where the retailer also keeps its head office and for which it paid a very low lease).

In a recent Globe and Mail article, incoming Sears CEO Douglas Campbell confirmed that Sears would consider selling additional leases (including the Eaton Centre location) if the price was right.

Nordstrom has reportedly coveted the Eaton Centre location, and landlord Cadillac Fairview has been craving a more productive anchor retailer.

[Image via Cadillac Fairview]

News: Honest Ed's Sold to Developer

David Mirvish has confirmed that Honest Ed's (the discount department store that was put up for sale this past summer) has been sold to Vancouver-based developer Westbank Properties.

Honest Ed's was opened over seven decades ago by David Mirvish's father Ed. The iconic discounter fills a city block at the corner of Bloor and Bathurst Streets. Known for it's flashy outdoor signs, annual Christmas turkey giveaway, and cheeky handmade instore signage, Honest Ed's had become a Toronto institution.

This past July it was reported that the store was beingoffered for sale for $100 million, and that David Mirvish would concentrate his energies on Mirvish Productions and a Frank Gehry designed redevelopment of his King Street properties.

Buyer Westbank is known as a luxury developer and was behind Toronto's Shangri-La Hotel. No plans for the site were announced, but Mirvish confirmed to media that the store will remain open for up to three years while the plans are finalized.

Also included in the deal are properties along Markham Street in the area known as Mirvish Village. This street is a unique collection of small retailers and restaurants and it's expected it will be affected by the redevelopment.

The Mirvish property at Bloor and Bathurst
[Image via Honest Ed's, map via Google Maps]

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Review: Toronto Shopkeeper Shops Rexall

Discovering how the pharmacy chain is rebranding and reinventing itself.

Location: Rexall (63 Wellesley Street East, Toronto, ON)

Over the past decade while Shoppers Drug Mart has been growing and capturing market share, Rexall has seemed comparatively frumpy and dated. They rolled out a cheeky ad campaign poking fun at their main competitor's focus on beauty and proclaimed their motto "A Pharmacy First."

Rexall is now in a period of transformative change that is seeing it transition from dreary into a formidable drug store competitor. Toronto Shopkeeper visited one recently renovated store to discover the new Rexall.

Design: Gone is the tired old Rexall logo (which looked like it was designed by an over worked 1970s ad man) and in its place is a new streamlined typeface rendered in a soft turquoise colour that appears throughout the newly renovated and expanded Wellesley Street location.

The store has grown with the addition of a second storey and escalators rise past a new wall of windows. The effect is an airy open space that entices the customer upstairs. The ground floor features cosmetics, snacks, and home supplies. The second floor features the pharmacist, health and beauty items, and baby supplies.

Upstairs as you step off the escalator you enter a "Men's Zone," an iPad equipped counter with a focus on helping men navigate the selection of grooming products. Beyond this the pharmacist's counter anchors a wellness area that includes a naturopathic and homeopathic section. The fixtures are clean and sleek and the store is well lit and easy to navigate.

Merchandise: Earlier this year Rexall launched a new range of private label products called Be.Better, a collection it says is "designed to help Canadians live, feel and be better." Be.Better items include vitamins and supplements, household products, beauty products, and snacks. The packaging is consistent with the new Rexall branding. Other private brands include Nosh & Co. (snacks and beverages) and Creation's Garden (a natural line of personal care products).

The pharmacy area features an impressive selection of national and private brand vitamins and the natural wellness area provides an accessible alternative to a health food store.

Also found are all the brands you would expect to find in a pharmacy from Pampers diapers to Axe deodorant. While the ground floor features many mass market beauty brands you won't find the prestige lines that Shoppers Drug Mart has been luring to its shelves. This isn't in itself a problem as Rexall is clearly positioning itself as a drugstore first.

Service: On a weekend afternoon the store was fully staffed on both floors. A cosmetician was manning the main floor beauty department. Upstairs, the Men's Zone offered a unique way to dispense selling information in an area that may not be as well staffed as the cosmetics department below.

The checkout line moved quickly and the friendly cashier offered a grand opening discount coupon with a minimum purchase. The receipt featured an additional coupon, enticing the customer to return for another visit. While Shoppers has their popular Optimum program, Rexall is an Air Miles partner and customers earn 1 Air Mile for every $15 purchase.

Online: Like Shoppers, Rexall lacks e-commerce on its website. While the website has been refreshed with the new look and logo, it's fairly ordinary and offers flyer information, a store locator, and company information. With Walmart and Amazon now offering health and beauty items through their online stores, lacking e-commerce is a missed opportunity.

Grade: 75%

Lost marks for: Rome wasn't built in a day, nor will a huge chain of stores be rejuvenated overnight. Many older stores remain (with that awful old logo) that don't reflect the new look and feel and change will take time. E-commerce would be another way to step into the future. Also, I fail to understand why some stores are branded Rexall and others as Rexall PharmaPlus with no discernable difference between the banners. Surely branding everything simply Rexall would be simpler, cleaner, and might in fact Be.better.

Gained marks for: A refreshing new look that proves you don't have to copy your competitors in order to be competitive. The shop design is thoroughly modern and appealing, in some ways even more so than Shoppers. The new Be.better range has a premium look and feel and is well positioned to grow with the new Rexall.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

News: Loblaw to Cut 275 Jobs

Canada's largest grocer Loblaw Companies Limited announced today that it is shedding 275 jobs, about 200 of those from their Brampton head office. The job losses will be primarily managerial and administrative and the retailer promises little store level impact.

A year ago Loblaw announced 700 job cuts to its head office. Today's announcement furthers the company's goal of streamlining operations in the face of increased competition. Both Target and Walmart have been aggressively courting customers with expanded grocery offerings. Target plans to open up to 135 Canadian locations, all with grocery departments. Discount competitor Walmart earlier this year announced that it intends to open an additional 27 Supercentres in 2013 which include an expanded grocery section.

After the announcement, Loblaw stock ended the trading day up $1.08 at $47.09.

In July Loblaw confirmed it was acquiring Shoppers Drug Mart for $12.4 billion. That deal is expected to expand Loblaw's reach into urban markets and provide distribution opportunities for their private brand products. The merger is expected to generate significant cost savings.

Loblaw has approximately 134,000 full and part-time employees across the country and operates 22 banners in a mixture of corporately owned and franchised stores.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

News: Saks Fifth Avenue Lanches Saks OFF 5TH Website

Retailer's off price division opens e-commerce channel.
Saks OFF 5th website
Saks Fifth Avenue has been in the news lately with its recent acquisition by HBC and its plans to open stores in Canada. Now the venerable retailer is launching a new online store for it's Saks OFF 5TH outlet.

Saks OFF 5TH was originally launched as an outlet for Saks Fifth Avenue merchandise. It has evolved into a major retail brand in its own right with over 800 major brands offered off price at its stores and now through its new website.

“This is a significant milestone for Saks OFF 5TH as the company rounds out our omni-channel offerings. In addition to our 70 nationwide stores, the e-commerce site is yet another platform through which we can provide our curated off-price shopping experience. We want it to be the Saks of the off price world, a true extension of the brand,” said Robert Wallstrom, President of Saks Fifth Avenue OFF 5TH.

Saks has a successful online store for its mainline brand, one of the reasons HBC cited for acquiring the company. Recently it has been shooting back at luxury flash sale competitors like Gilt Groupe by launching timed specials called FashionFix on its website. Now with its Saks OFF 5TH website, Saks is reaching an even broader consumer base.

The Saks OFF 5TH website will offer the same brands found in stores, along with the Salon Z plus size women's collection currently in limited distribution. Online promotions will be consistent with store offers and new items will be added daily. The Saks FashionFix flash sales will move to the Saks OFF 5TH website.

“We designed the site to be a sleek, modern online reflection of the elevated design of the OFF 5TH stores with a strong value message. We think it will become a best in class off price fashion destination online,” said Michael Burgess, President of Saks Direct.

Though Saks has confirmed that Canada is the retailer's largest international market, the Saks OFF 5TH site does not currently offer shipping to Canada.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Preview: 65-Storey Tower to Rise at Toronto Eaton Centre

Cadillac Fairview proposes a new residential tower atop a historic 4-storey podium building.

A rendering of the proposed development at 2 Queen Street West
The north-west corner of Queen and Yonge houses a historic commercial building that has seen a succession of tenants over the years. Cadillac Fairview is proposing a new rental tower at this site that will restore and utilize the facade as part of the new building's base.

The new tower will be designed by Zeidler Partnership Architects and contain 475,000 square feet of space with 580 rental units. The bottom two storeys of the podium will contain retail space. Above that will be building amenities including a terrace on the fifth level. The tower will have no parking spaces (though bike parking will be available) and is a significant injection of residential rental space into the Toronto market. The building will connect to the Eaton Centre's facilities and sits atop the Queen subway station.

Rendering of the tower with nearby buildings

An article in The Grid outlines the fascinating history of 2 Queen Street West. The site was the home of men's clothing retailer Philip Jamieson whose store included large plate glass windows and a round corner entrance (his advertising would reference "The Rounded Corner").

According to the City of Toronto heritage designation, the Philip Jamieson Building is an example of a late 19th century commercial building with Classical detailing. Its design is Renaissance Revival with differing window shapes on various levels and Classical motifs.

The Philip Jamieson Building in 1897

Later occupants of the site included Woolworth's, who operated here between 1912 and 1980. Woolworth's covered the building with a metal skin that was removed in the 1980s. The exterior is currently partially restored and partially covered. Currently the home to an Atmosphere sportswear store, 2 Queen Street West was the Toronto home of Tower Records from 1995 to 2001.

The corner of Queen and Yonge Streets in the 1970s
Prior to the construction of the Toronto Eaton Centre, Eaton's encircled the site with store frontage on both Queen Street and Yonge Street. According The Grid, a former landowner had a stipulation in her will baring the sale of the property to the Eaton family, for reasons unknown.

[Historical images via the City of Toronto Archives and the Toronto Public Library, renderings via Cadillac Fairview]

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

History: Eaton's & Simpson's Celebrating Toronto's Subway

When department store rivals celebrated Canada's first subway.

A display window at Simpson's
With all the drama in the news about potential subway construction in Scarborough, and the bickering amongst various levels of government, Toronto Shopkeeper looks back to the dawn of Toronto's subway system.

On March 30, 1954, after five years of construction, the Yonge subway line was officially opened by Ontario Premier Leslie Frost and Toronto Mayor Allan A. Lamport. The line ran from its northern terminus at Eglinton to Union Station. Along the way it passed under the flagship stores of the city's two most important retailers Eaton's and Simpson's

The department store competitors commemorated this first subway in Canada with a series of display windows focusing on innovation and accomplishment.

While to modern eyes the displays may appear slightly hokey, they offer a nostalgic glimpse into how important the subway was to the development of the modern city. Yet somehow it seems inconceivable that a modern retailer would celebrate a TTC project in the same way.

A display window at Simpson's

A display window at Simpson's

A display window at Eaton's
A display window at Eaton's
A display window at Eaton's
[Photos via City of Toronto Archives]

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

News: Lands' End Sets Sail for Canada

Venerable American catalogue retailer launches Canadian website.

Lands' End, known for its classic apparel and its "Guaranteed. Period." no quibble return policy, is launching a dedicated Canadian website. Canadians can now shop, see pricing in Canadian dollars, and have total duties and taxes calculated at checkout. The retailer is also offering free Canadian shipping with any purchase over $50 CAD.

"We are dedicated to focusing our efforts on an enhanced e-commerce presence in Canada that not only offers an online shopping experience that is true to the Lands' End brand but is also tailored to the specific needs of Canadian shoppers," said Carl Atwell, VP International, Lands' End. "We are eager to connect with new customers and become a trusted brand for style, quality and value for years to come."

The brand's Apostrophe quarterly.
Lands' End (the misplaced apostrophe was a typographical error that has since become a company signature), started fifty years ago as a Chicago-based sailing outfitter. It has since become an American retail institution with the bulk of its business conducted through traditional mail order as well as its e-commerce channel.

The company's founder Gary Comer instituted a hassle free return policy and promised that "If you're not satisfied with any item, simply return it to us at any time for an exchange or refund of its purchase price. Guaranteed. Period."

The brand's signature pieces include its outwear (many pieces hint at the company's nautical heritage), canvas bags, and custom monogrammed dress shirts. Lands' End has said that a significant number of their customers were ordering from Canada and they have now joined many American retailers offering all-in-one pricing for Canadians.

Lands' End is owned by Sears Holdings Corporation (the American parent of Sears Canada). A selection of the brand's products were available for several years in selected Canadian Sears locations in dedicated shop-in-shops. Lands' End is now targeting Canadian customers primarily through its website.