The new store spans more than 12,000 square feet over two levels. A street-level entrance welcomes customers into a 1,085 square foot space that features a Teuscher of Switzerland chocolate boutique (currently the only one in Canada) as well as escalators that lead to the dramatic second-level retail space that occupies almost 11,600 square feet.
Soaring 23-foot ceilings, natural light, and impressive fixtures characterize the dramatic retail space, which is worth a visit for anyone who is in the area. There’s even an in-store café that serves tea and coffee complimented by Teuscher Chocolate, served with elegance in a dedicated section of the store that includes a series of south-facing, oval-shaped windows.
Toronto-based DesignAgency designed the new space, which it describes as having "a series of modern contemporary fixtures, environments and experiences wrapped and woven over two floors through the heart of the landmark Colonnade Building on Bloor Street,” going on to say that its goal was "to create an enveloping environment that is the very definition of William Ashley - all the while allowing the array of stunning products to tell their own unique stories."
Matt Davis, Principal at DesignAgency, explained how his firm worked with William Ashley to create the unique retail space. While smaller than the previous location, design efficiency allows the new location to function as a considerably larger store. DesignAgency examined the unique space and came up with innovative storage solutions and as well, the layout of the new store has a more efficient flow than the former Manulife Centre location.
Fixtures in the new store were created by Unique Store Fixtures Ltd.
The process took about 3.5 years from site selection to completion, according to Mr. Davis, with construction taking about 11 months. The overhauled space was made possible by the fact that while The Colonnade’s exterior is heritage designated, its interior was fair game for a complete revamp.
One remarkable feature of the store is its functionality — for example, tables in the store can be joined in the central galleria to create a dining room for 120 people. The space is designed to be able to host different ‘experiences’ and activations throughout the year.
William Ashley’s president, Jackie Chiesa, explained how the new Colonnade store features enhanced customer service experiences that engages technology, personalized services (including wedding registry, corporate services and interior design) as well as an entirely new store design to showcase William Ashley’s prestigious assortment of goods.
The store features some of the world’s leading tableware and giftware brands — strolling the space reveals brands such as Waterford, Hermes, Christofle, and Versace, and several new brands such as Jonathan Adler have been added in the new store. A roster of brands and offerings are available on William Ashley’s website.
The Colonnade, which some consider to be ‘ground zero’ for luxury retail on Toronto’s Bloor Street West, is owned and operated by landlord Morguard. Scott Harris, General Manager of Retail at Morguard, noted that “the Colonnade was Canada's first mixed-use building featuring chic retailers. From its opening in 1963 to today, an era of best-in-class retailers continues to serve the demands of Bloor Street shoppers seeking exceptional product.” Other retailers at The Colonnade include names such as Cartier, Mulberry, Escada, Black Goat Cashmere, Coach, Moncler and Prada, and towards the end of this year Christian Dior will unveil its largest store in North America in an expanded two-level retail space occupying the eastern-side of the complex.
What’s interesting is when The Colonnade opened in the 1960’s, it originally operated as something of a ‘shopping mall’ with a collection of stores that spanned two levels, with a corridor in between. Prior to William Ashley’s construction, the second level featured a corridor with some smaller retailers, as well as the Herzig Eye Institute which has since relocated nearby.
William Ashley relocated from the nearby Manulife Centre at 55 Bloor Street West, which is currently undergoing an overhaul costing over $100-million. The Manulife Centre William Ashley store closed at the end of 2016 and for over a year, it operated out of a 3,200 square foot pop-up space on the ground floor of The Colonnade, next to Italian luxury retailer Moncler.
William Ashley was founded in 1947 by Tillie Abrams (who passed away in 2010), and opened its first Bloor Street store in the 1950’s. In the early 1970's, William Ashley was the first store in Canada to offer a wedding registry service. William Ashley boasts the largest selection of tableware and home decor in the world, and this year marks the 70th anniversary for the venerable retailer. William Ashley moved into the Manulife Centre at 55 Bloor Street West in 1994, replacing former women’s luxury retailer Creeds which went bankrupt in 1991.