Thursday, 25 April 2013

News: Sears Canada Considers Options

The Globe and Mail is reporting that at today’s Sears Canada annual general meeting, CEO Calvin McDonald confirmed the possibility that the retailer might sell additional assets as it seeks to increase productivity and streamline operations.

Last year Sears sold back the leases to three high profile stores to landlord Cadillac Fairview, which opened the door to US department store Nordstrom to enter the Canadian market. McDonald said there are no current plans for any additional store closings.

In a further consolidating of its store categories, Sears is eliminating electronics and window coverings, and scaling back on its signature Craftsman hardware line as it focuses on fashion and appliances.

From the Globe and Mail:

“We’re here to remain in Canada to trade and become a relevant retailer,” Mr. McDonald, a former Loblaw Cos. Ltd. executive said in reply to a shareholder’s question. “In that there are non-strategic assets that we own today, if the opportunity is right to create value through those, we will explore those opportunities.”

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

News: Toronto Flower Market About to Bloom

Foodies may have taken to supporting local food producers, but there’s a new market in town that celebrates all that buds and blooms.

Starting in May, the Toronto Flower Market will arrive in Queen West and feature local growers of flowers and plants.

According to the Toronto Flower Market’s website “guests will enjoy an oasis made up of Ontario-based flower growers. With some of the best flower selections in the province, pick out your favourite cut, potted and bedding varieties to take home.”

The market’s cafĂ© will tempt visitors with coffee and freshly baked treats.

This monthly market will be taking place at 99 Sudbury in the Queen West area of Toronto starting Saturday May 11 from 10am-3pm (and then monthly on every second Saturday until September 14).

Click here for more information and market dates or follow the market's Facebook page.

[Photo and Information via Toronto Flower Market]

Monday, 22 April 2013

News: Nordstrom Sherway Gardens Update

Last year Sherway Gardens announced a massive renovation and expansion. Project highlights include increasing retail square footage by 250,000, creating a new food court, adding restaurants, and building a three level parking deck. But the showstopper of the project is the construction of a new Nordstrom store as part of the US retailer’s first wave of Canadian store openings.

Nordstrom’s Sherway Gardens location will be in the wing currently anchored by Sporting Life (that retailer will be moving into a new expansion at the mall’s north end). This wing was constructed originally in 1989 to house Bretton’s department store, a high-end fashion chain that closed in 1996. The corridor leading to the anchor store is currently lined with retailers such as Guess and Hollister, and an upper level contains the "Gourmet Fair" food court.

Perhaps the most striking feature of this part of the mall is a prominent Teflon-coated fabric canopy roof that was designed by Zeidler Roberts Partnership Architects. The 75 foot roof covers 44,000 square feet and glass panels along the side allow light to stream in during the day. The roof’s three peaks are an iconic part of Sherway Gardens.

Plans for the wing include relocating the food court to the new extension and creating second floor retail in its place. Lease plans released last year appear to show two-level retailers in this corridor but do not list store names. The food court staircase and the elevator also appear destined for removal.

The current Sporting Life store will be torn down and replaced with a brand new two story 138,000 square feet Nordstrom store. While this will be one of the smallest planned Nordstrom stores, it will be more than double the size of the current Sporting Life store and be adjacent to a new two store parking structure.

With Holt Renfrew opening a new flagship store at Mississauga’s Square One, and the speculated closing of its Sherway Gardens store, Nordstrom will be well positioned at Sherway Gardens with it’s assortment of brands and its reputed excellent customer service.

[Nordstrom renderings via Nordstrom Press Room]
[Other Sherway photos via Future Sherway]

Sunday, 21 April 2013

News: Proposed Toronto Casinos with Retail Components

With the proposed Toronto casino in the news lately, advocates and foes are lining up and taking sides on this contentious topic. While the port land's Westfield/Ferris wheel debacleis dead in the water, it’s a sure bet that if a casino is approved a mall will be an important part of any new development.

Toronto Shopkeeper thought it would be a good time to summarize the main proposals.

Oxford Place

A development by Oxford Properties (operators of both Yorkdale and Square One shopping centres) aims to redevelop the Metro Toronto Convention Centre and surrounding areas. While a casino of up to 450,000 square feet is the catalyst for the development, Oxford Place promises to include: one million square feet in convention space; a new public plaza built over the existing rail corridor; one million square feet in retail space; 2.5 million square feet in office space, 1.7 million square feet in new hotel space; 600,000 square feet in residential space; and 4000 new parking spots.

Oxford asserts that Oxford Place would be larger than a proposed Exhibition Place development, will be integrated into the city’s entertainment district, and will be accessible due to the proximity of Union Station and the PATH network. The Oxford proposal promises $5-$6 billion in investment.

Exhibition Place

Mayor Rob Ford has made it clear he favours a casino on the Exhibition Place grounds, as he believes the city can generate up to $100 million in annual revenue from a casino on this publicly owned property. MGM Resorts and Cadillac Fairview have put forward their plan for a “Integrated Resort” which would include a casino, hotel space, convention space, and a significant retail component.

MGM and Cadillac Fairview claim their $2-4 billion development will create 10,000 new jobs and estimate that new visitors will spent $1 billion annually in non-gaming activities. The companies say that only at Exhibition Place would there be enough room to build a casino large enough to attract international tourists.

The MGM Toronto proposal trumpets the fact that Exhibition Place would become a year round destination and promises to work with the Canadian National Exhibition to ensure the annual fair could continue.

Toronto Shopkeeper is a fairly lukewarm on the idea of a Toronto Casino. What do you think? Connect on Twitter @toshopkeeper.

[Oxford Place source material via Oxford Properties]
[MGM Toronto source material via MGM Resorts/Cadillac Fairview.]

Friday, 19 April 2013

News: Holt Renfrew to Open at Square One

Holt Renfrew has announced today that they will open a new flagship store in Mississauga's Square One shopping centre in spring 2016. The move comes as the company moves to increase their retail square footage by 40% both through their namesake department store and their new lower priced banner hr2.

"We are pleased to announce a new Holt Renfrew at Square One. West Toronto and Mississauga are growing, vibrant areas and this is a strong move forward in our plan for an exciting fleet of luxury stores across Canada," said Holt Renfrew President Mark Derbyshire in a press release. "We look forward to leading a new era of extraordinary shopping experiences in Canada."

Holt Renfrew currently has 3 stores in the Toronto area (Bloor Street, Yorkdale, and Sherway Gardens). An hr2 location will open this spring at Vaughan Mills. There has been speculation that Holt Renfrew was considering moving their Sherway Gardens store to Square One, though today's announcement did not mention the status of that location.

Click here for the official press release.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Review: Toronto Shopkeeper Shops Black’s

Is Black’s still photography?

Location: Black's - Dufferin Mall (900 Dufferin Street, Toronto, ON)
Every five years comes that dreaded time when your passport expires and you have to retire that faithful friend. The idea of taking a new passport photo has always filled me with a sense of quiet dread, as inevitably I end up looking like a past-my-prime drug dealer.
Convenience first brought me to Shoppers Drug Mart, where a passport photo costs about $10. After asking a friendly associate for help, a befuddled youth appeared with a point-and-shoot camera. He placed a small stool in an aisle and lowered a background screen. I sat there while he took photo after photo, each time showing me the result on the tiny digital display before he decided to take another. He even offered me blotting paper to take the shine off.
After a quick wait, I paid and left with two copies of my new photo. I know that passport photos always look more mug shot than glamour shot, but I was horrified when I examined the resulting washed out photo. Later that evening I resolved to try the photo experts at Black's and headed to their Dufferin Mall location.
Design: From the mall the store looks inviting with product merchandised along the walls, and glass showcase windows inviting customers to browse from both inside and outside the store. As Black's is now a subsidiary of Telus, the store has a wide selection of mobile phones available and these are prominently displayed by the entrance.
Merchandise: With the shift to digital, Black's has seen some profound changes over the past ten years. It has the requisite digital printing available along with a beefed up assortment of merchandise ranging from compact to digital SLR cameras and lenses. Frames, albums, and accessories are also available. The Telus display is impossible to miss, though I’m not sure if a camera store would be my first port of call when looking to buy a new phone.
Service: There are two associates working as I approach the service desk. After asking if they do passport photos the first associate sighs and says yes they do. When I ask if I can see the photo before it is printed, the associate answers with a curt yes and points to a stool and screen. I feel as though my presence is an imposition. The associate retrieves a camera from the back and I am reassured to see that this is no point-and-shoot.
I sit on the stool and before I know it I see a flash and realize that my photo has been taken. Without a word the associate disappears into the back and the second associate tells me there will be a ten minute wait. I pace through the store quietly annoyed, examining the cameras. (This would have been a great opportunity to try and sell some cameras or accessories to customers as they wait.)
Two additional customers enter looking for passport photos (part of me could see how this could get a little annoying, but then again if I worked at Starbucks I wouldn't be surprised if someone came in and ordered a latte). I watched as the second associate took the next two passport photos, and I couldn't help but notice that this associate showed the customers the images before printing.
After the promised 10 minutes had elapsed, the second associate advised me that there were issues with the printer and that I should return in an hour. It was eight in the evening, and in an hour they would be closed. I was told I should just knock on the door and someone will get my photo for me.
I left the store fuming, and retreated to a nearby coffee shop where I sat mentally composing a pointed letter of complaint. The remainder of the hour spent wandering the mall did little to calm my temper.
After nine, with the mall’s stores closing, I returned to Black's to find the doors closed. Inside I could see the associate who took my photo and I knocked on the glass. The associate silently strode over and slid an envelope under the locked door. I was even more annoyed by the fact there was not even a word of apology for the inconvenience.

I rushed angrily to the parking lot and as I walked I opened the envelope and saw the passport photo. My pace slowed, and I could feel a smile forming. It was good, probably my favourite passport photo ever, and the colour and quality were great. I ripped up that imaginary letter of complaint.
I decided that my Black's experience was like meeting a doctor with a terrible bedside manner, who nevertheless cures what ails you. The passport photo (with the standard two copies) cost about $24. I had no qualms about paying a premium when the quality is evident, however I was annoyed by the lack of care and shabby service. I may have hated the photo from Shoppers Drug Mart but I was nevertheless pleased by the service, and didn’t even think to complain about the quality of the photo.
That being said Black's is the sort of store that I want to do well, and I can remember going there as a child with my parents to get our vacation photos developed. I couldn’t help thinking there were many ways that would make both my experience more positive and their bottom line better. While I was waiting I could have been offered help with the cameras or mobile devices, having a captive audience of waiting customers is a great opportunity to sell.
Online: Black's has a fairly extensive and user friendly website. Cameras and accessories are available to purchase and prints and photo printed merchandise can be ordered. The ability to create custom photo books is a particularly nice touch. Their website promotes a passport photo guarantee, if your photos are rejected by Passport Canada then Black's will refund your money and offer a complimentary new photo.
Grade: 50%
Lost marks for: a lack of decent customer service. You could have the best product in the world but if your customer leaves with a negative experience they are unlikely to come back.
Gained marks for: quality, there was no denying that in this instance you got what you paid for.
Postscript: Black's has contacted Toronto Shopkeeper in regards to the review above. I appreciate their response and their call to action. Here is their message:

"First I’d like to apologise, at Black’s providing our customers with great service is our goal and the staff member you dealt with clearly failed. I’ve asked the Regional Manager for this location to follow up with the Store Manager and create an action plan to ensure that the staff are fully trained and providing service to our customers that we can be proud of." - Black's

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Neighbourhood: Toronto Shopkeeper Explores Ossington

The west end street that went from grease pit to hip strip.

Ossington Avenue used to be known for its auto mechanic shops, but rising rents on Queen Street made the strip attractive to galleries and bars. Now the area dubbed Ossington Village (running between Queen St. W. and Dundas St. W.) is a hipster haven with new restaurants and shops added to the mix. Before you spend the night in the neighbourhood's bars, spend the day exploring the street’s unique collection of retailers.

Controversial condo development 109 OZ (109, all addresss on Ossington Avenue), is scheduled to take over the site of an old auto body shop. Local residents have been questioning the development’s inevitable densification of the neighbourhood.

The neighbourhood’s shopping used to lean heavily to the vintage side. You can still treasure hunt for vintage finds at I Miss You Vintage (63) you’ll find designer re-sale and vintage fashion; their Facebook page features newly arrived showcase items. Next door at Emporium (63) discover a nostalgic shop selling accessories.

Jonathan and Olivia (49) is one of the original fashion destinations on Ossington, offering a curated collection of designers such as Alexander Wang, Band of Outsiders, and ACNE Studios. It stocks clothing, shoes, and accessories for men and women, as well as amazing candles from New York based niche perfume brand Le Labo.

Across the street you’ll find Tiger of Sweden (56), a recent addition to the street with the brand’s first Toronto outpost. The store features sleek tailored menswear with a Scandinavian edge and professional separates for women in a modern store that has a decidedly Yorkville feel.

Philip Sparks (162) is a Canadian brand that has a vintage vibe and is made in Canada. The nostalgic clothing for men and women is dapper and classic. Standouts in the spring 2013 collection include cotton canvas duffle bags and briefcases with brightly coloured leather straps.

Motorcycle enthusiasts should zoom over to Town Moto (132). This store sells everything you need for a stylish ride, from jackets and helmets to motorcycle bags and accessories.

Satisfy  your inner carnivore with a visit to Cote de Boeuf (130), a butcher/grocer, this new spot features great prepared take home dinners sure to satisfy any foodie. Down the street you’ll find Venezia Bakery (114), a classic Portuguese bakery with breads and staples like custard tarts.

Grab a bite: Start off your afternoon of shopping with a coffee at Crafted by Te Aro (135) and ask for a flat white (an antipodean invention consisting of a shot of espresso and a dollop of microfoam). If you’re feeling peckish, get in line at Pizzeria Libretto (221) for authentic Neapolitan pizza. Then finish your evening with a drink at local institution Sweaty Betty's (13).

Friday, 12 April 2013

News: Follow Toronto Shopkeeper on Twitter

Connect with Toronto Shopkeeper on Twitter - @toshopkeeper

News: Hudson's Bay is Making Progress

Toronto-based Hudson's Bay Company announces earnings

While sales in the first quarter of this year have been soft, HBC has said 2012 same-store sales at their Hudson's Bay division have risen to $140 per square foot, versus $133 the year before. They are planned to increased by 3-5 percent in 2013 as the retailer continues an extensive series of store renovations (of which a third have been completed).
HBC chief executive Richard Baker confirmed that the company is looking to add new retail brands to the chain, after inking an agreement to bring Kleinfeld Bridal to the flagship Queen Street store in 2014. Baker said they approach their stores like malls, and wish to create a customized mix of brands desirable to their consumer. Japanese brand Uniqlo is rumoured to be on HBC's radar.
For further reading consult the following sources:

Thursday, 11 April 2013

News: American Express is looking for Toronto’s Neighbourhood Gem

As part of its Shop Small campaign, American Express Canada is asking you to vote for your local favourite small business. Visit their Facebook page at and click the Neighbourhood Gems icon to vote before April 21.

The top four small businesses will win a social marketing session with Facebook and the winner receives a one page advertorial in Toronto Life magazine. Voters are entered into a daily draw for a $50 AMEX gift card. You can tweet your comments to #shopsmall.

According to Industry Canada, small businesses make up 25 percent of Ontario’s GDP. A tangible way of supporting this important sector is to patronize your local independent retailers. Strong independent retailers make for healthy neighbourhoods, and ultimately a vibrant and diverse city.

Obviously American Express’ motives aren’t purely altruistic, and by promoting these small businesses they are also promoting the idea that you can use your AMEX card at a greater range of retail partners. But by shining a light on small businesses, AMEX is helping to focus on an important and sometimes overlooked part of the local economy.

[Photo via]

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Review: Toronto Shopkeeper Shops Target

Does Target Hit the Bullseye?

Location: Target – Cloverdale Mall (250 The East Mall, Etobicoke, ON)

You would have to be living under a rock to have avoided the media hype surrounding the launch of American discount retailer Target. After acquiring Zellers store leases from the Hudson’s Bay Company two years ago, Target announced plans for 125-135 Canadian locations, with the first batch opening this spring. In March a selected number of stores had soft openings ahead of the official grand opening. Customer opinions were mixed. While many welcomed the addition of a new retailer into the Canadian marketplace, others bemoaned the fact that Target’s prices in Canada were higher than in its American stores.

In an interview with the Globe and Mail, Target Canada’s CEO Tony Fisher explained that pricing would be in line with Canadian competitors and re-iterated the company’s manta of “Expect More. Pay Less.” With Canada’s vast geography, scattered population, and increasing fuel costs, customers can expect to always pay a little more than their American neighbours. Target has stood out on price with an innovated loyalty program called “Red Card” that allows customers to save 5% on most items.

One of the visible ways that Target has tried to differentiate itself from its main discount rival Walmart is by a “focus on design.” Through collaborations with brands as varied as Liberty of London and Jason Wu, Target has created much coveted limited edition collections that sell out and create design credibility.

Ahead of its store openings, Target had instituted an all-encompassing promotional campaign. A ubiquitous TV spot with Dragonette singing the theme to Mr Rogers’ Neighbourhood was whimsical and catchy and was matched with billboards and streetcar advertising.

But how does all of this translate into a customer experience? Toronto Shopkeeper visited the Target at Cloverdale Mall (both during the soft opening and after the grand opening) to find out.

Design: The store design is bright and airy and covered in the signature Target red (not dissimilar from Zellers red). The lightweight shopping carts are made of recycled plastic and are a dream to steer around the store's wide aisles. In the beauty department the shelves are illuminated and bright but the gondolas are toweringly tall; if they were as low as those housing small appliances the department would feel more inviting. The electronics department was engaging with devices appealingly displayed and inviting customers to play (the televisions were playing a looped video of the Dragonette commercial, which must at some point drive the staff bonkers). The cute Target Hearts Canada logo was prominently featured at the main entrance.

Merchandise: Target does noticeably channel its energies into design. The home collections were particularly impressive, providing affordable and moderately priced accessories and housewares. The food department is stocked via an arrangement with Sobeys, though it pales in comparison to the food on offer at Walmart’s Supercentres. The Archer Farms private brand stands out as Target’s version of President’s Choice. Unfortunately in clothing the selection is anaemic and uninspired. A collaboration with Roots was well picked over, and there was little else to catch the eye.

During the store’s soft opening, many fixtures were left with bare patches and signs proclaiming the store a work in progress.

Service: While it’s sometimes hard to gauge customer service at a big-box retailer, sales associates (“team members” in Target speak) were numerous and helpfully answered all queries. While using the self-checkout an associate was very eager to help with ringing in the purchase (which I couldn’t help thinking defeated the purpose).

Online: Currently there is no e-commerce on The website features informative content and there are also Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter pages.

Grade: A solid 70%
Lost marks for: the mediocre basics in the clothing departments, and the flury of bad PR around pricing.
Gained marks for: friendly helpful staff, stylish and affordable home collections, and great branding.

Monday, 8 April 2013

News: Nordstrom Announces Yorkdale Location

Today Oxford Properties Group confirmed that Nordstrom will be opening at its Yorkdale shopping centre in fall 2016 as the anchor store in a new three-level 298,000 square foot expansion. Last year Nordstrom announced its entry into Canada with 4 locations in Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa, and Toronto (all in malls owned by Oxford rival Cadillac Fairview).

Yorkdale, which boasts one of the highest sales productivity rates in the country, has been a key Canadian gateway for many international retailers. Last fall it unveiled a 145,000 square foot expansion and added retailers such as Tesla Motors, the Microsoft Store, Kate Spade, and Ted Baker.

The new extension will be constructed adjacent to the Silver City cinemas, currently the site of a multi-level parking deck. The defunct department store Eaton’s used to anchor this end of the mall, before being shuttered in 2002 and replaced with a collection of retailers in a renovation completed in 2005.

This year retailers such as All Saints, John Varvatos, Zara Home, and Mulberry will mark their Canadian debut at the shopping centre. As well, department store rivals Holt Renfrew and Hudson’s Bay are completing multi-million dollar renovations to their Yorkdale locations. Construction on the expansion will commence in January 2014.

From the official Press Releases:

 “In the past year, Yorkdale has added an impressive number of new and innovative brands to the shopping centre, continuing on our legacy of providing the very best experience for our shoppers by bringing in the most in-demand retailers from around the world,” said Anthony Casalanguida, General Manager, Yorkdale Shopping Centre. “The introduction of Nordstrom continues that momentum, and we are very excited to help bring this exceptional retail experience to our shoppers. 

“Nordstrom’s reputation as an industry-leading fashion retailer is well known and respected globally and we are elated to open Toronto’s largest Nordstrom location at Yorkdale Shopping Centre,” said Blake Hutcheson, President and Chief Executive Officer, Oxford Properties. “Renowned for its exceptional customer experience and wide selection, Nordstrom will complement Yorkdale’s already exceptional mix of world class brands – and take Yorkdale to an even higher level of success.”

Saturday, 6 April 2013

News: The Cookbook Store Celebrates 30 Years

The Cookbook Store is celebrating thirty years since first opening its doors in Toronto's Yorkville neighbourhood (850 Yonge Street). Today it's one of the last remaining great independent book shops in Toronto. Facing a torrent of competition from online discounters and big-box book sellers, The Cookbook Store has remained a local institution.

Store owner Alison Fryer appeared this morning on CBC Radio One's Fresh Air, click here for the interview.

Welcome to Toronto Shopkeeper

This is an exciting time for retail in Toronto. New international retailers are arriving, while hometown favourites are being forced to modernize and reinvent themselves. Brick and mortar businesses are facing a new marketplace where e-commerce is shrinking the world and making everything only a click away.
In this context comes The Toronto Shopkeeper, a blog that seeks to train a critical eye on the retail scene in the Toronto area. A combination of news, reviews, historical context, and industry gossip, The Toronto Shopkeeper will help keep you abreast of the all latest developments while hopefully entertaining you along the way.
Let's go shopping ...