By Devon Johnson
Ossington Avenue is on track to become one of Canada's trendiest retail strips. Located in Toronto's west end, the north-south street lies just outside of Toronto's downtown core, with its main retail strip bordered by Dundas Street West to the north and Queen Street West to the south. A mixture of small local businesses and larger retail chains populate the street - everything from artisanal craft shops, clothing retailers, restaurants and bars.
Although primarily known for its local establishments, the street is also now populating with international retailers. Starbucks was one of the first major names to set up shop on the strip in 2012. Tiger of Sweden, and Shinola have also opened up their first Canadian stores along the strip. Most recently announced is a Lululemon Men's Store, coming next year.
Toronto is a city filled with thriving neighbourhoods and shopping districts. Over the past year, most retailers focus their retail efforts in the downtown core. CF Toronto Eaton Centre has seen a major influx of new retailers, and neighbourhoods such as Yorkville and Queen Street West have seen new retailers open street-front spaces over the past several years.
A neighbourhood like Ossington seems non-traditional for Toronto retail. Guaranteed retail success is not necessarily found in this area of Toronto, compared to the city's established shopping nodes. With only a few brand name retailers that are currently on Ossington, why are more retailers suddenly interested in setting up shop here?
"We're getting more calls from retailers that want to come to Ossington Avenue," says Aly Damji, VP of Commercial Real Estate at Hullmark Developments, a Toronto-based real estate company that currently owns nine commercial properties in the neighbourhood.
Mr. Damji explained over the phone last week that sudden interest in Ossington Avenue isn't necessarily shocking. "Retail has become more of an experiential experience. As retailers drive higher online sales, they look for retail spaces in neighbourhoods that speak to the culture of their brand", he said.
Mr. Damji gives credit to local retailers such as Crywolf, Bellwoods Brewery, and Johnathan+Olivia for giving Ossington it's "cool" factor that is attracting major retailers. "Local retailers undoubtedly created a vibe that led more interest in the area".
American luxury brand Shinola opened its first Canadian store over in the summer of 2016 at 1000 Queen Street West. Shinola opted for a 1,800 square foot space on Ossington, rather than open a store in Yorkville like most luxury retailers. "When [Shinola] looked at other retailers on Ossington, it aligned with their brand really well," says Mr Damji. "They have a hard corner spot at Queen and Ossington, which tackles both markets of Ossington and Queen Street West".
Vancouver apparel brand Reigning Champ has opened their first Toronto location in the Ossington neighbourhood. According to Mr. Damji, Reigning Champ discovered that their brand had a strong presence in the Toronto market through online sales. Despite Reigning Champ initially focusing on opening their first location on Queen Street West, Mr. Damji says an Ossington store is more of a brand statement for them. "As they drive higher online sales, they look for stores that speak to the culture of their brand."
Canadian athletic apparel retailer Lululemon opened its first Canadian Lululemon Men's store at 96 Ossington Avenue in the former Harley Davidson cafe space. Mr. Damji also reassures that more brand name retailers are on the way, and should be announced within the next year.
Another addition to the street in 2017 was Toronto's first location for Vancouver-based fitness concept Ride Cycle Club, founded by J.J. Wilson, son of Lululeomon founder Chip Wilson.
According to Sales Representative Jackson Turner, brokerage CBRE has been involved with a number of deals on the street, including Reigning Champ, Lululemon Men's, Peace Collective, as well as the new Ride Cycle Club.
How are these brands truly performing on Ossington? According to Mr. Damji, Shinola and Reigning Champ have both seen higher than expected sales and foot traffic."Initially we felt that brands were locating on Ossington solely for the brand statement". Mr. Damji credits Ossington Avenue's success with the street's connection to nearby West Queen West, which has been bringing great weekend foot traffic to the area.
As more major retailers begin to fill Toronto's trendy Ossington Avenue, there is a question on the minds of nearby residents and retailers -- can small retailers and brand name retailers co-exist, or is one of Toronto's trendiest neighbourhoods facing possible gentrification?
"That is something we look at ourselves. We are very conscious about the neighbourhood." says Mr. Damji. "Ten years ago, Queen West had a mixture of international retailers but also local retailers as well" Mr. Damji continues, ensuring that retail development on Ossington will be more responsible and that the company wants to see local business thrive in this area.
Mr. Damji says the key to a successful street of retail is co-existing, and that without smaller retailers, a successful neighbourhood loses it's cool "vibe" that retailers initially loved when moving into the area.
"A lot of retailers who were in the Queen Street West node are starting to move to Ossington. We want to make sure the local retailers do well," Mr. Damji ensures.
We'll be watching the transformation of Ossington Avenue in the coming months, as the area continues to welcome national and international brands to an already compelling neighbourhood street.