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 B├ędos, 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]