September 12, 2014
By Karim Rashwan
It may not be Toronto’s most prestigious mall, nor its most popular, but Bayview Village could be the city’s most unique mall. While Yorkdale, Sherway Gardens, Square One, and Toronto Eaton Centre are all undergoing massive expansions and upgrades to accommodate the seemingly never-ending parade of luxury retailers that are making their way to Canada, Bayview Village has been quietly undergoing a retail renaissance unlike that of most malls in North America.
Tucked away in Willowdale, one of Toronto’s most affluent communities, and also catering to the nearby ultra-wealthy neighbourhoods of York Mills, The Bridle Path, Sunnybrook, and Lawrence Park, Bayview Village's stores are notably upscale. What makes the mall so different, however, is that it contains, arguably, the city’s highest concentration of “the only one in North America” stores. High-end designer labels such as Betty Barclay, Oui, Luisa Cerano, Laurèl, Riani, and Basler all have mono-brand shops in the mall, all of which are the only North American outpost for each retailer. Brooks Brothers, Jacadi, Pink Tartan, and the soon-to-open Strellson are also among the luxury designer labels that have set up shop in the mall, as well as high-end grocery store Pusetari's – Canada’s answer to New York City’s famed Dean & Deluca's. Strellson's opening in the fall marks a significant milestone for the brand in Toronto’s retail scene, making Toronto the only city in the world to boast two freestanding Strellson stores.
With Bayview Village's target customer being female, over 30 years old with an annual household income of over $100,000, it should come as no surprise that the mall contains no fewer than seven footwear stores and is consistently ranked in the top 5% for sales per square foot in Canada.
Things weren’t always this way, though, for Bayview Village. The shopping centre started out as an open air mall when it was built in the 1960’s, catering to the growing post-war, suburban communities that were starting to dot the Greater Toronto Area landscape. But unlike several other “power centers”, like Honeydale Mall, that didn’t manage to survive the recessions of the 70’s, 80’s, and early 90’s, Bayview Village remained competitive by actively seeking out independent luxury boutiques not found in larger malls across the city. In 1977, the mall was enclosed, and as Kmart moved out, Canada’s first GAP store moved in, setting the scene for Bayview Village to take on some of the country’s higher profile malls. With Toronto having been recently ranked 15th in the world for the highest concentration of millionaires, today, it is not uncommon to spot Bentley's, Maserati's, Aston Martin's, and Ferrari's in the Bayview Village parking lot, as empty-nesters shop for $1,000 jackets and sip $8.00 lattes.
As competition for retail space intensifies, and malls increasingly become a point of entry into Canada, Bayview Village will no doubt continuously reinvent itself, as it seeks to attract unique retailers that, while not necessarily having the same big name pop of a Versace, Ferragamo, or Bvlgari, will continue to build on Toronto’s growing and diverse luxury retail scene.