By Craig Patterson
Vancouver-Based multi-brand women’s retailer Aritzia has re-opened its store on Toronto’s prestigious Bloor Street West after a substantial expansion. Now one of the brand’s largest stores globally, the 50 Bloor Street West flagship is the first in Canada to feature an in-store coffee shop as the brand experiments with its ever-expanding base of stores.
It’s the latest flagship retail space to be unveiled on Toronto’s Bloor Street West strip, which some consider to be Canada’s answer to Fifth Avenue in New York City. Holt Renfrew’s flagship and headquarters are located in the same Morguard-operated Holt Renfrew Centre at 50 Bloor, and further up the street are flagships for Harry Rosen, Dolce & Gabbana and Louis Vuitton.
The new store features an imposing facade that spans almost triple the width of the former, smaller store. Last year Aritzia updated its logo from a stylized design to more of a traditional font (that is also arguably more readable). A large marquee entrance with dozens of lightbulbs greet shoppers on the street into the new store.
The store’s interior is described as being ‘feminine and spacious’ with ample use of wood and marble. The store’s layout includes a series of steel and glass-partitioned ‘boutiques’ for Aritzia’s house brands — the shops line the walls on each side of the flagship, with the central part of the store featuring fashion displays as well.
Custom millwork, architectural wall panels, large media art installations, and marble can be found throughout the store. Marble tables, wire-wheeled oak tables, curated artwork, sculptures, books and plants can be found through the store, with flooring consisting of polished concrete and herringbone.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the store is located at the back — through a marble archway is a stunning dressing room area and lounge featuring rich woods, plush furniture, and whimsical antiques. (Aritzia refers to it as a ‘chill lounge’). The store features ‘expert stylists’ that can be booked by appointment.
One unique feature to the store is an in-store coffee bar called ‘A-OK Café’. The concession serves coffee and other drinks as well as pastries and other food items. Included are coffee beans by De Mello Palheta (a Toronto-based micro roaster), loose leaf tea by Genuine Tea, food and pastries by Butter Baker and vegan options provided by Tori’s Bakeshop — there’s even A-OK Café-branded coffee beans for purchase. The café space features an exterior doorway onto Bloor Street as well as from within the Aritzia store and interestingly, its hours are shorter than the adjacent fashion store, with A-OK Café closing at 6:00pm on weekdays — about two hours before the rest of the store.
The new Aritzia flagship includes Artizia in-house brands including Tna, Babaton, The Group by Babaton, Wilfred, Wilfred Free, Le Fou Wilfred, Sunday Best, Little Moon, Main Character, Auxiliary, Denim Forum, Golden by Tna and The Constant. Over the past decade Aritzia has launched multiple private label brands in order to maintain product exclusivity — it has done so partly as a response to new multi-brand retailers such as Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue that have entered Canada and carried some of the same designer brands as Aritizia in the past.
Aritzia operated a considerably smaller store at the Holt Renfrew Centre for years, and the tired looking store was in need of an update. The expansion was made possible by annexing a retail space that had previously housed womenswear retailer BCBG, as well as an escalator well that provided public access to the Holt Renfrew Centre mall located below.
The escalators have since been updated and are now part of the Aritzia store itself. A dedicated basement level mall entrance features Aritzia signage with access upstairs into the store itself, as per the photo below.
Aritzia’s original Holt Renfrew Centre location featured a narrow storefront with a retail area spanning just over 4,900 square feet. After annexing the former BCBG space as well as the escalator well, the expanded Aritzia flagship measures more than 11,400 square feet, making it one of the largest stores in the entire chain. BCBG closed all of its physical stores worldwide last year — its Holt Renfrew Centre location spanned just over 5,000 square feet on one level. At one time, the escalator well included upstairs access to music retailer HMV which closed in 2016 (the 9,000 square foot space was subsequently leased to Holt Renfrew which will expand by adding a new floor this year).
We visited the expanded Aritzia over the weekend and were impressed with how busy it was. Loud, thumping music set the mood, and the store was surprisingly vibrant in a part of the city that is typically subdued. Dozens of staff are on duty at any one time, and we’d say that the new store would be one of the busiest on the street, and that includes considerably larger stores such as Louis Vuitton and Holt Renfrew.
Over the past three years, Aritzia has been upsizing many of its existing locations by annexing space to create flagships, as it continues to see success with its retail model that includes in-house as well as a selection of designer brands. The company’s in-house brands TNA, Wilfred and Babaton have all been expanded to include their own standalone stores in selected markets — in markets where Aritzia store real estate is constrained, the company has unveiled locations for these brands, according to founder and CEO Brian Hill, in an interview.
Bloor Street is also in the process of a significant shift as new retailers descend on the area. Later this year, grocerant concept Eataly will open its first location at the nearby Manulife Centre, which will span about 50,000 square feet over three levels. Christian Dior is building its largest store in North America at The Colonnade at 131 Bloor Street West (Chanel relocated its flagship nearby in the fall of 2017). While not confirmed by the company, sources say that Apple will open a three-storey, 20,000 square foot flagship at the base of ‘The One’ at 1 Bloor Street West tower that is under construction and will eventually include a mixed-use tower exceeding 1,000 feet in height, with penthouse apartments priced in excess of $20-million each.
Aritzia, while not a prestige or luxury retailer, fits in with the transformation of the Yonge and Bloor intersection. Last spring, Nordstrom Rack opened its Canadian flagship store at 1 Bloor Street East, and other major mid-market brands are said to be eyeing the area in anticipation of Eataly and other draws moving into the area.
The Holt Renfrew Centre is a 247,000 square foot retail centre at 50 Bloor Street West housing a 190,000 square foot Holt Renfrew store, as well as several retailers that are located primarily on its lower-level, accessed from the city’s underground PATH pedestrian network that connects to adjacent commercial properties. According to the Retail Council of Canada 2017 Shopping Centre Study, the Holt Renfrew Centre saw annual sales in excess of $1,000/square foot last year.
Anchor Holt Renfrew is also in the process of a significant renovation. Departments are being shifted around as the store’s ground floor is transformed into a luxury brand destination, primarily housing leased concession boutiques for some of the world’s biggest names. Menswear will relocate from a 16,500 square foot standalone store at 100 Bloor Street West into the third floor of the 50 Bloor West flagship, and other details such as a new facade will be revealed shortly.