Banff's Second Floor Retail and Why it Works

By Brandon Donnelly, Architect This City

I have good news and bad news.

The bad news is that I took a gnarly spill yesterday afternoon on the mountains. The nose of my snowboard got stuck in deep snow and I fell forward onto my shoulder and then compressed my back. I tore a shoulder ligament and possibly fractured two ribs. So snowboarding season is over for me this year.

The good news is that I now have more time to relax and enjoy the town of Banff, and then Revelstoke this weekend.

Banff is a beautiful town. It’s compact, walkable, and surrounded by snow capped mountains. How could you not love it?

One of the more subtle things that stands out for me though is the ubiquity of second level retail and restaurants. There’s a lot people in the (North American) real estate industry that will tell you that second floor retail just doesn’t work (you want ground floor). And indeed, it can be hard to pull off. As I’ve said before, getting retail right in general can be difficult.

But in Banff, many of the bars and restaurants are up top. Here are a few examples (there’s an Earls, Boston Pizza, and a Korean restaurant, respectively):

So why does it work here?

Given the town’s small footprint and location within Banff National Park, the market is supply constrained. That’s why Parks Canada imposes a number of restrictions on residency. They’re trying to ensure that the people who actually work in the community can find housing and it all doesn’t become second homes.

So my gut tells me that in order to get enough retail/commercial space to serve the area and its tourists, they had no choice but to go up. They simply ran out of ground floor space. Because if the town was able to instead sprawl outward, I suspect that’s exactly what it would have done. And then more ground floor space would have been created.

To be fair, most of the second floor examples I came across were bars and restaurants, which is arguably easier to pull off than straight retail. But it’s still something. 

If any of you are familiar with real estate and planning in Banff or just have a better hypothesis, I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below.

About the Author: Brandon Donnelly is a real estate developerinternet entrepreneur, and blogger based in Toronto. His passions are cities, design, real estate, and technology. 

He presently works at TAS, where he oversees the development of mixed-use condominium projects. He’s also cofounder of condo review site Dirt ( Prior to this, he worked in the development group of Morguard Investments on office and retail projects. Brandon has worked in real estate since 2007.

Brandon studied architecture and art history at the University of Toronto. He also has a master’s in architecture and real estate development from the University of Pennsylvania, and an MBA from the Rotman School

In his spare time, Brandon advises a non-profit called The Laneway Project. He also loves the gym, snowboarding, and Ontario wines.

About Architect This City: ATC is a daily blog for city builders written by an architect-trained, Toronto-based real estate developer. It was started in August 2013 and is rated by the Guardian Cities in the UK as one of the best city blogs in the world.

It covers everything from architecture and planning to real estate and technology. The posts are short and digestible, and are emailed out every morning at 6AM Toronto time. Subscribers are often architects, city planners, real estate professionals, entrepreneurs, policy makers, and other urbanists.

The mission of Architect This City is to promote the building of beautiful, sustainable, and globally competitive cities.

Today's Retail News From Around The Web: February 13, 2015