Calgary Luxury Retail Split as Suburban Mall Seeks Dominance 

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By Craig Patterson

Calgary’s retail scene is seeing disruption as CF Chinook Centre adds luxury retailers to its mix. Downtown Calgary, which for years has been the go-to place for high-end shoppers, is now competing with the suburban CF Chinook Centre for shoppers as Louis Vuitton relocates into the mall, which also houses Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue.

Until the oil downturn of 2014/2015, downtown Calgary was a thriving retail centre housing an impressive multi-level Holt Renfrew store as well as a strong Harry Rosen, Birks and other prestige retailers. The recession resulted in a loss of jobs and office workers and with that, a loss of some high-end shoppers that would otherwise frequent the core in search of status goods. 

The Holt Renfrew store, which relocated from a 35,000 square foot space to a 151,000 square foot premises in 2008 still houses the top selection of luxury concessions and shop-in-stores in the city. The street level features storefronts for brands including Hermes, Loro Piana, Gucci, Prada, Celine, Tiffany & Co. and Miu Miu and upstairs on the women’s floor, brands such as Chanel, Akris and Dolce & Gabbana occupy hard-shops (Chanel is a leased concession). Louis Vuitton’s exit from the downtown core is concerning and could signal a shift as other brands also look at CF Chinook Centre, according to some vendors at Holt Renfrew. 

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  Holt Renfrew in The Core (Downtown Calgary). Photo: Holt Renfrew

Holt Renfrew in The Core (Downtown Calgary). Photo: Holt Renfrew

As well, sales are said to have gone down significantly at Harry Rosen’s two-level store at Calgary’s The CORE, and some brands have exited including the Giorgio Armani mainline. Sales are said to be challenging at Birks and at La Maison Simons, which opened in the spring of 2017, and is still seeking out shoppers for some of its designer departments including its ‘Edito’ departments which carry some of the world’s leading brands for both men and women. Hudson’s Bay, which operates a 500,000 square foot flagship downtown, has decided against carrying some contemporary brands for women including Sandro and Maje, which both operate concessions at Hudson’s Bay’s CF Chinook Centre location. 

CF Chinook Centre stands to gain wealthy shoppers with the opening of its 4,450 square foot Louis Vuitton boutique, which carries a more expansive offering than the downtown Calgary Holt Renfrew concession. CF Chinook Centre also houses a clustering of upscale stores including Tiffany & Co., Harry Rosen, Tesla, and Canada Goose, as well as prestige retailers such as Le Creuset which operates a colourful storefront at CF Chinook Centre. Mackage is said to have secured a space in the mall as has upscale skin care brand Aesop, and popular vegan accessory brand Matt & Nat will also open in the mall in early 2019. 

Saks Fifth Avenue opened its third Canadian store at CF Chinook Centre in February of 2018 — the 115,000 square foot two-level store replaces a shuttered Target location. Nordstrom opened its first Canadian store at CF Chinook Centre in September of 2014 and it included a roster of high-end brands with an aim to pull-in some downtown shoppers. 

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On a recent visit to Calgary, however, it was clear that neither the Saks Fifth Avenue or Nordstrom stores at CF Chinook Centre carry nearly the same number of luxury brands found at Holt Renfrew in the city’s downtown core. While Saks Fifth Avenue carries a range of pricey handbags and shoes from some of the world’s leading luxury brands, it carries almost no true luxury branded apparel for women or men. The mall’s Nordstrom store, interestingly, carries a small range of luxury brands in its women’s ‘Collectors’ department though a sales associate noted that many of the brands that were introduced into the department in 2014 are no longer in the store. The economic downturn appears to have hit the suburbs as well as downtown. 

What’s resulting is a showdown between the downtown core and the suburbs, with a split in luxury retailers similar to that of Toronto where the Yorkdale Shopping Centre is attracting luxury brands at the expense of the downtown ‘Bloor-Yorkville’ area, which for decades has been the primary location for luxury-branded boutiques in the city. It’s only been in the past few years that luxury brands have been opening stores in suburban malls in Canada, which is a phenomenon more common in the United States. 

At the same time, Holt Renfrew in downtown Calgary continues to maintain a roster of top brands that are not found at CF Chinook Centre and as well, the downtown CORE offers dramatic charm and an urban authenticity that is lacking in suburban centres. It remains to be seen where high-end retail in Calgary will be located in the next decade as landlords jockey to attract affluent consumers. 

Craig Patterson, now based in Toronto, is the founder and Editor-in-Chief Retail Insider. He's also a retail and real estate consultant, retail tour guide and public speaker. 

Follow him on Twitter @RetailInsider_, LinkedIn at Craig Patterson, or email him at: craig@retail-insider.com.

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