Inside the Shoppers Drug Mart Store that Replaced a Hard Rock Café [Photos]

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By Craig Patterson

Shoppers Drug Mart has opened a three-level, 16,000 square foot store in Toronto where the city’s iconic Hard Rock Café was once located, and the new store includes some features not found in other Shoppers Drug Mart locations. 

We were first to report in March of 2017 that Shoppers Drug Mart had leased the building in which Hard Rock Café was located, with plans to convert the 22,000-square-foot building to a flagship drug store to serve the busy area. Hard Rock Café occupied the site for about four decades and prior to that, the building housed the Friar’s Tavern from the years 1963 to 1976. Celebrity visitors included Bob Dylan. In the 1980's, part of the second level served Toronto's Queer community, including drag shows and a dinner theatre called "Evening at La Cage".

  Hard Rock Cafe prior to Shoppers Drug Mart. PHOTO: WWW.ERAARCH.CA

Hard Rock Cafe prior to Shoppers Drug Mart. PHOTO: WWW.ERAARCH.CA

As a tribute to the building’s musical past, Shoppers Drug Mart has dedicated a 140-square-foot space on the store’s upper level to showcase artifacts from these venues as well as memorabilia from some of Toronto's music legends, in addition to an interactive timeline that allows visitors to see historical highlights come to life through photos and video.  

The retail space itself looks like a typical Shoppers Drug Mart store, though its street-facing windows overlook the visually stimulating surroundings which characterize Yonge-Dundas Square — Canada’s answer to New York City’s Times Square. The new store’s 5,000 square foot street-level is dedicated primarily to beauty items, with an expansive beautyBOUTIQUE that is larger than any we’ve seen. Included is a digital ’beauty wall’ for the Quo brand which provides consumers with beauty information tailored to their selections and preferences. There are plenty of recognizable international brands, and the space also offers a rotating selection of unique indie beauty brands for consumers to discover. Shoppers Drug Mart Beauty Experts were on hand to assist customers with selection and purchases. 

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A vibrant red stairway with a large LED screen on one side connects the street level with the second level. An elevator connects the store’s three levels. 

Much of Shoppers Drug Mart’s typical retail offerings can be found on the upstairs level of the store, with expansive walls of glass providing a view of the very busy area — CBRE marketing materials claim that more than 60-million people frequent the area annually. Following an acquisition by grocery behemoth Loblaw in 2014, Shoppers Drug Mart has been expanding food offerings in its stores. The Yonge-Dundas Shoppers Drug Mart features fresh food that can be purchased on the go, including fresh produce, PC Kabobs, pork chops, ground beef, burgers, chicken breast, sausages, and salmon. Grocery offerings include cereals, soups condiments, ice cream and various frozen foods, ready-to-eat food such as sandwiches, wraps, sushi, as well as fresh pastas, sauces, quiche and meat pies. 

The store’s basement level, with lower ceilings and less natural light than the other two floors, houses the store’s pharmacy area as well as a full-service Canada Post outlet. The store is owned and operated by Andrew Yeh, who has been a pharmacist in the area for the past ten years. The store also offers Shoppers Drug Mart’s digital pharmacy, where patients can manage their prescriptions online. The Canada Post concession offers staffed counters as well as a self-serve shipping station to make purchases and send parcels. The self-serve technology allows customers to print shipping labels or stamps, drop off parcels in a secure drop box and pay by debit or credit before receiving a receipt with the tracking number, according to Shoppers Drug Mart. 

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Despite being three levels, the new store doesn’t feel ‘gigantic’. Aisles feature the typical displays found in most Shoppers Drug Mart locations, and some parts of the store almost felt crowded. When the building was being marketed for lease last year, brokerage CBRE noted that the building encompassed about 22,000 square feet of space. A source who tipped us off last year that the lease had been signed also said that the asking rent for the building was $2-million annually — or about twice what Hard Rock Café was paying when it occupied the building until the summer of 2017. The building boasts frontage of about 60-feet along Yonge Street, with a further 125-feet facing onto Dundas Square. 

The same source told us that the landlord wished to lease the space to one large tenant, hence why Shoppers Drug Mart got the space.

The Yonge-Dundas intersection is the busiest pedestrian area in Canada, and is anchored by North America’s busiest shopping mall — the CF Toronto Eaton Centre, which sees an estimated 50 million annual visitors. Neighbours include a 220,000 square foot Nordstrom flagship, Uniqlo’s first Canadian storeSaks Fifth Avenue’s Canadian flagship, and an expanded H&M flagship that is the chain’s top-selling unit in the country. Samsung also opened its largest Canadian retail space across the street at CF Toronto Eaton Centre in a highly experiential 21,000 square foot premises. 

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Shoppers Drug Mart, which has more than 1,300 Shoppers Drug Mart and Pharmaprix stores coast-to-coast, continues to expand its operations into categories including pharmacy, beauty and food. The company’s beautyBOUTIQUE concept competes with the likes of Sephora and Hudson’s Bay, and Shoppers Drug Mart also operates four beauty stores under the ‘Murale’ banner. Last year, sources were saying that Shoppers Drug Mart was looking to shutter the Murale banner and open standalone beauty stores under a yet-to-be-determined name, though it’s unclear if the idea has since been scrapped, or if the company will continue with potential plans for standalone beautyBOUTIQUEs in Canada. The company also owns and operates 43 corporate Shoppers Home Healthcare stores, two new Wellwise by Shoppers Drug Mart stores and an e-commerce site Wellwise.ca, making it the largest Canadian retailer of home health care products and services.

Besides its expansive retail operations, the company also owns Shoppers Drug Mart Specialty Health Network Inc. — a provider of specialty drug distribution, pharmacy and comprehensive patient support services — as well as MediSystem Technologies Inc., a provider of pharmaceutical products and services to long-term care facilities.

Shoppers Drug Mart’s Yonge-Dundas location is the latest example of a former restaurant/food venue being turned into a drug store. Last year we toured a Rexall store on Toronto’s Bloor Street West that was once ‘the Brunswick’ bar, popular with university students. 

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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