By Christopher Lui
Located in the heart of Richmond Hill, Oxford Properties’ Hillcrest opened on August 8, 1974. The shopping centre is located on a 46-acre site on the northwest corner of Yonge Street and Carrville Road. The original four anchors were Kmart, Sears, Simpson’s, and Loblaws Supermarket. The architects were Bregman and Hamann with the interior designer being Robert Meiklejohn. The vision for the interior was both a place to shop and a focal point for community activity. This vision is still the heart of Hillcrest today, reflected in its strong community partnerships and ongoing sustainability efforts. For more about the history of Hillcrest, see our Retail Insider Mall Profile.
Fall 2018 saw Hillcrest unveil its completed interior renovation and newly developed North Wing, introducing the #HillcrestGlowUp campaign to mark the milestone. Looking back, Hillcrest’s transformation started in 2015 with Hudson’s Bay. The renovation combined two separate Hudson’s Bay anchors (one for women's fashion, and the other for men's fashion and home furnishings) into one larger 136,915 square foot store including a new exterior facade. The renovations continued with the South Wing development, opening October 26, 2016. This space, formerly the Hudson’s Bay Men’s and Home Store, became Sporting Life (40,000 square feet) and H&M (21,000 square feet).
In July 2018, the South Wing added West Coast Kids (17,000 square feet). A unique point of differentiation for West Coast Kids is the entrance configuration. With only an exterior point of access, the proximity of West Coast Kids to a shallow parking field means access and egress to this retailer is simplified.
In 2018, the renovation continued with the North Wing expansion spanning 133,000 square feet. The space formerly belonged to Target which closed in Spring 2015. Over the past few months, the centre welcomed a series of retailers. They include HomeSense/Marshalls (46,450 sq. ft.) on September 18, Old Navy (15,005 sq. ft.) on October 24 and Indigo (22,460 sq. ft.) on November 19, 2018. Other newly opened retailers include honey (3037 sq. ft.), Swarovski (1213 sq. ft.), Uncle Tetsu (440 sq. ft.), Carbon (1286 sq. ft.), Beautyco. by Shari Gold (1021 sq. ft), and Lindt (2924 sq. ft.) and Ashby Grove Men’s Fine Grooming Barber Shop (645 sq. ft.).
Interior and exterior renovations commenced March 12, 2018 and were completed by October 2018. The upgrades included modernized ceiling treatments, column treatments, new tile floors, retrofitted lighting, renovated washrooms, and new entrances (Entrances 1 and 6). The food court’s footprint expanded, growing to 500 seats from 277. The exterior design includes distinct exterior facades, structural glass vestibules, exterior wayfinding and a redesigned ring road.
New stores and amenities combine to create a curated collection of lifestyle retailers reflecting Hillcrest’s demographic. The shopping centre attracts young suburban families with the head of household averaging an age of 38. The centre is predominately frequented by females which make up 70% of its shoppers. The average household income is $117,420 per year with 47% of households in the trade area earning over $100,000 per year. Lisa Resnic, Hillcrest’s Marketing Director & Specialty Leasing mentions “these are brand savvy families that value spending time together as a family and value a sense of loyalty and strong community.”
To celebrate completed renovations, Hillcrest’s marketing team created a series of events based on a Glow Up Transformation theme. A Glow Up (noun) is a dramatic before-and-after transformation. The events partnered the new retailers with local community organizations. The events centered on giving back to the Richmond Hill community while celebrating. The first event was designed to drive customer traffic to HomeSense while collecting housewares, toiletries, clothing, toys and books for domestic abuse survivors at Sandgate Women’s Shelter. The first 50 guests that donated received a $10 Hillcrest gift card. Shoppers Drug Mart and Hillcrest Dental Centre made generous donations including lifestyle products and dental kits for adults and children. The results? Hillcrest collected products valued at over $15,000 with a total weight of over 1000 pounds.
The second event, Hillcrest partnered with create IT to celebrate the opening of Old Navy and raise funds for the Boys and Girls Club of York Region. Hosted by Cityline’s Tracy Moore and facilitated by create IT, robotics and coding workshops were hosted inside Old Navy on opening day. Guests between the ages of 5 to 10 years old learned skills in coding, video game design and problem-solving alongside Boys and Girls club members, with Old Navy making a donation to the organization. Resnic says “these events resonated well with Hillcrest shoppers as they incorporated their values of community, learning and giving back. The events were a great way to celebrate the transformation of Hillcrest from an ugly duckling to a beautiful swan.”
What’s Next for Hillcrest?
For 2019, Hillcrest is focusing on “rightsizing” its retail spaces. Rightsizing is the process of reviewing the size of existing stores upon lease renewal to ensure the space still meets the retailer’s needs. This may include reducing/increasing square footage or proximity to complementary stores. For example, Aldo Accessories and Aldo swapped spaces with SoftMoc. This allowed SoftMoc to relocate to a larger space while Aldo was able to move to a smaller location which better fits its needs.
The leasing team will be actively reviewing retailer spaces as leases are up for renewal. Ryan Da Silva, General Manager, Hillcrest says, “rightsizing allows Hillcrest to attract both larger retailers as well as utilize smaller spaces that appeal to boutique or pop up retailers. This process helps to ensure that Hillcrest has a unique retailer mix. We are analyzing our dwell time statistics to ensure optimal store layout and shopper engagement at Hillcrest.” Dwell Time is a metric measuring the amount of time shoppers spend within the shopping centre. It is useful for both retailers and mall operators as evidence shows that customers are more likely to make a purchase the longer they spend browsing in-store.
Food options are increasing at Hillcrest with the addition of Szechuan Express serving fast and fresh Chinese food to the Food Court in early 2019.
The renovations are appealing to the shoppers at Hillcrest. Customer feedback on the final look and feel has been overwhelmingly positive. According to Resnic, “Hillcrest has transformed from a dated mall to a brighter and more welcoming destination. Throughout the renovation and redevelopment sales continued to increase, culminating in November with a sales productivity increase of 6.6 per cent and sales of $578.00 per square foot on a 12 month rolling basis. Traffic for the month of December showed an increase of over 18 per cent on a 12 month rolling basis.”
Hillcrest is expecting to see vertical development and population intensification to York Region. In 2016, the region forecasted a population increase of 11.3%. This is buoyed by the addition of 8,800 new residential units within a 5 kilometer radius., including 5 soon to be completed condo developments. This added population density will attract even more shoppers to Hillcrest.
Looking into the future, the long term vision of the trade area is to create a mixed-use centre that features high density development, transit-oriented options, major commercial/retail and new public spaces including parks. Three draft land-use and design scenarios have been created to illustrate potential future developments.
With the intensive development scenario of the trade area, this could be assisted with the potential rise of autonomous vehicles. With the reduction in the reliance of large-scale parking, the parking lot could be reallocated to additional development. In addition, the proposed Yonge Subway Extension to Richmond Hill could help to bring shoppers to Hillcrest. There is the potential ridership of 165,000 users per day using this new line extension.
Oxford Properties recently introduced its new 40,000 square foot food market concept ‘Market & Co.’ to Upper Canada Mall in Newmarket in fall – which is also owned by Oxford Properties. With the increasing population growth and density at Hillcrest, the leasing vision incorporates a ‘food experience’ strategy. This includes leasing opportunities for food vendors including unique pop-ups, new vendors inside Hillcrest’s food court and premium casual restaurants.
Overall, the future looks bright for Hillcrest. It’s positioned to be successful now and into the future as a hub for Richmond Hill. We are excited to see the next evolution of Hillcrest.
Christopher Lui is a Human Resources and Marketing Professional with over 10 years of experience in project management and working on multi-stakeholder projects in both public and private sectors. He has management consulting experience in areas such as strategic planning, stakeholder engagement, and change management. An avid shopper and foodie always looking for the next big thing to try. Follow him on Twitter @chrislui01 or LinkedIn at Christopher Lui.