By Craig Patterson
Large-format Canadian multi-brand luxury retailer Holt Renfrew has announced that it will close its downtown Edmonton store in early 2020. The retailer is focusing on operating considerably larger storefronts in major Canadian cities to showcase a broader assortment of brands, and is shuttering all of its smaller units in smaller markets as a result. Holts will vacate the downtown Edmonton market after decades of operations that began with a small store on nearby Jasper Avenue in 1950.
Located in the retail podium of the Manulife Place office tower in downtown Edmonton, the Holt Renfrew store will close on Saturday, January 11, 2020. In a release, Holt Renfrew said that it is closing the Edmonton store to focus on its large-format store model.
“After looking at a variety of options in the area and careful financial and market analysis, it was determined that Holt Renfrew’s enhanced specialty luxury business model requires a significantly larger store footprint to host the experiences and deep merchandise offering of its core brand partners.”
The Edmonton store has just over 30,000 square feet of retail space over two levels in a three-level space spanning about 47,000 square feet. By the end of 2020, all of Holt Renfrew’s other stores in Canada will span in excess of 130,000 square feet, making the existing Edmonton unit a clear outlier in terms of size and overall appearance. As well, Holt Renfrew has been growing its leased shop-in-store concession business within its stores by dedicating a considerable amount of space to some of the world’s leading luxury brands to operate their own stores within Holt Renfrew. Currently the largest concession space within a Holt Renfrew in Canada is the Chanel boutique in Vancouver, which occupies an impressive 5,060 square feet on the street level of the CF Pacific Centre Holt Renfrew flagship, and 3,000 square foot concessions for Saint Laurent and Fendi are located at Holt’s Bloor Street flagship in Toronto, as examples.
“The decision to close our smallest regional store in Edmonton was difficult, and we did not take the decision lightly. This store is led by a great team that has performed well and we’ve cherished our history in the community,” said Robert Zeidel, Chief Operating Officer, Holt Renfrew. Operations at the Holt Renfrew Edmonton location will continue throughout the year until the closing date of January 11, 2020”.
Mr. Zeidel went on to say, “We wish to thank our dedicated team in Edmonton and will continue to serve our valued customers until the store closure and always through our enhanced holtrenfrew.com experience as well as our other stores across the country.”
In an interview with the Globe & Mail, Mr. Zeidel explained that the Edmonton store is closing because its lease is expiring. Sources familiar with leasing at Manulife Place have said that Holt Renfrew had been extending its lease year-by-year while it determined what to do in the Edmonton market.
Staff in the Edmonton Holt Renfrew store will be supported through the transition, according to Holt Renfrew. “Employees may look for new opportunities at other Holt Renfrew locations or will receive personalized packages that reflect their service along with career planning support,” said Holt Renfrew in a statement. About 100 people work in the Edmonton store, according to Holt Renfrew.
Holt Renfrew has operated in the Edmonton market since 1950. Its first store opened at 10336 Jasper Avenue in 1950 after Holt Renfrew purchased the building a year prior, and soon after a smaller standalone men’s Holt Renfrew store opened in the commercial podium of the historic Hotel MacDonald. At the time, that block of Jasper Avenue housed retailers including upscale Edmonton-based menswear retailer Henry Singer, as well as a large Birks jewellery store at the corner of Jasper Avenue and 104 Street.
Holt Renfrew expanded the Jasper Avenue store in 1971 to include a new facade. In 1982, the company moved its Edmonton store into the base of the new Manulife Place tower at 10180 101 Street, which became arguably the most upscale shopping centre in the city.
The future of the Manulife Place, as well as downtown Edmonton, is now more uncertain than ever. Holt Renfrew’s vacating downtown Edmonton leaves a huge hole in the core, and the city will lose its only true luxury ‘department store’. The Manulife Place has seen several prominent store closures over the past couple of years, including a Birks jewellery store and German luxury brand Escada. Sources say that menswear retailer Henry Singer will relocate its Manulife Place store to the nearby ICE District, and that the large Zenari’s cafe on the ground floor of Manulife Place, across from Holt Renfrew, will also be relocating.
Downtown Edmonton is seeing a massive amount of construction, including for a new LRT line along 102 Avenue that is located directly in front of Holt Renfrew’s Edmonton store. Access issues may have also played a part in the decision to close the store, as construction will be ongoing to an extended period of time.
Adding to the uncertainty are rumours that Oxford Properties has reportedly been negotiating to divest the asset though it still retains ownership.
Holt Renfrew was said to have been considering several options to remain in the Edmonton market. In 2013-2014, plans were drawn for an overhaul of the adjacent Edmonton City Centre retail complex that would have included a two-level Holt Renfrew store of nearly 100,000 square feet with expansive frontage onto Churchill Square. A Target store would have been another anchor in the centre, though plans were shelved because of delays and a crash in oil prices, not to mention the exit of Target from Canada in early 2015.
Holt Renfrew was also said to have been in negotiations with West Edmonton Mall over a period of several years with several potential spaces being considered. One potential option would have been constructing a large Holt Renfrew store where the mall’s T&T grocery store is, with the store expanding southward to the retail component of the mall where Louis Vuitton will soon be opening its store. Another option was a newly-built store near the mall’s ‘Phase 1’ with an entrance onto a new marble-clad renovated section which was started in 2014 — construction was said to have started on spec for a large Holt Renfrew store, with the space eventually being leased to Cineplex-owned entertainment concept ‘The Rec Room’.
Louis Vuitton, which currently operates a concession inside Edmonton’s Holt Renfrew and recently announced that it was relocating to West Edmonton Mall, is said to be responsible for more than half of all retail sales at Holt Renfrew’s downtown Edmonton store. Sales in the Vuitton concession said to be approximately $20-million annually. Given that Louis Vuitton stated that it would be closing its downtown Holt Renfrew concession in December of this year, several industry insiders correctly predicted that the downtown Edmonton Holt Renfrew store would close shortly thereafter and partly as a result.
The 4,600 square foot Louis Vuitton store at West Edmonton Mall will open on June 8 of this year, and West Edmonton Mall could end up successfully negotiating deals for brands carried at Holts that might be looking to open standalone stores. Canada Goose recently announced that it would be opening a flagship store at West Edmonton Mall with its own ‘cold room’, and landlord Triple Five is said to have been in negotiations with other world-renowned luxury brands to open stores near Louis Vuitton. Given the high sales numbers of Gucci products at the downtown Edmonton Holt Renfrew store, there’s a possibility that Gucci and similar brands could end up opening at West Edmonton Mall, for example.
There’s also the possibility that Nordstrom would consider, again, opening a store at West Edmonton Mall. Such a store could house several of the major brands currently carried at downtown Edmonton’s Holt Renfrew. Gucci, for example, operates a 2,000 square foot concession at Nordstrom’s CF Toronto Eaton Centre store, and some better Nordstrom locations carry top brands such as Balenciaga, Dior, Saint Laurent and David Yurman. Sources say that in 2014 Nordstrom was in talks with Triple Five to open a store at West Edmonton Mall in a proposed retail wing that would have extended south of the mall’s entrance 50, with Nordstrom fronting onto 87 Avenue.
Holt Renfrew has been closing its smaller units as it focuses on its much larger retail format. In January of 2015, Holts closed a 36,000 square foot store in downtown Ottawa at 240 Sparks Street, a 33,000 square foot store at Place Ste-Foy in Quebec City, as well as a 3,000 square foot ‘shopping suite’ at Portage Place in downtown Winnipeg. Holt Renfrew’s history in Quebec City went as far back as 1837 when the company was founded in the city as a small fur shop.
According to an annual report that we were able to locate from 1954, Holt Renfrew also once had stores in Hamilton and London Ontario, as well as multiple units in Montreal and Quebec City. Holts also operated a network of smaller storefronts in several major railway hotels including the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City, the Sheraton Mt. Royal in Montreal, the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa, the Royal York Hotel in Toronto, and at the MacDonald Hotel in Edmonton. In the early 1990’s, Holt Renfrew operated a 900 square foot accessory boutique at the Chateau Whistler Hotel in Whistler, BC.
When the Edmonton store closes early next year, Holt Renfrew will operate seven stores in Canada, which will become six with the closure of a Montreal storefront that has operated there since 1937.
As part of Holt Renfrew’s focus on large-format stores, the company’s 83,000 square foot store at 1300 Sherbrooke Street West in downtown Montreal will be closing in the spring of 2020, as confirmed by Holt Renfrew. That closure will coincide with the completion of the newly merged ‘Holt Renfrew Ogilvy’ store at 1307 Ste-Catherine Street West which, when completed, will become the company’s largest store at about 250,000 square feet. Holt Renfrew Ogilvy recently unveiled a 28,000 square foot concourse-level beauty floor as well as a 40,000 square foot men’s fashion floor, with the store’s ground floor set to feature concessions for some of the world’s top luxury brands, including a significant Chanel presence as well as large storefronts for brands such as Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Gucci, Prada and others.
Holt Renfrew has been investing more than $400-million into its store network. When all is said and done, the Vancouver flagship, which has expanded to more than 190,000 square feet, will have been about 90% renovated from its 2007 format with more than twice the number of leased vendor shops. WWD reports that the store is tops in the chain with sales estimated to be $400-million annually.
Holts’ 190,000 square foot flagship store at 50 Bloor Street West in Toronto is seeing an overhaul that will include a new facade and renovated departments — a 12,000 square foot concourse-level beauty hall was recently unveiled, and the store’s ground floor will become something of a ‘shopping mall’ with a collection of the world’s top luxury brand boutiques. A standalone 16,500 square foot men’s store will close after a new 25,000 square foot men’s store is constructed on the third floor of the 50 Bloor flagship.
The Yorkdale Holt Renfrew store in Toronto is seeing a 10,000 square foot expansion that will include new boutiques for Dior, Fendi and a world of Gucci boutique, with all three featuring mall-facing entrances as well as access from within the store’s newly renovated men’s department. WWD reported that the store does sales of more than $250-million annually and that number could surpass $300-million when the store’s renovation is completed next year, including updates to its second level and accessory areas.
A beautiful 140,000 square foot Holt Renfrew opened at Square One in Mississauga in the summer of 2016. The store has recently added premium ready-to-wear luxury designers to the mix that weren’t present when it opened.
In Calgary, Holt Renfrew is expected to continue renovating the store though it appears to have been put on a bit of a hiatus. A new restaurant and personal shopping suites were to have been added to the store’s fourth level which is currently not used for retail space. Calgary’s 150,000 square foot Holt Renfrew store also lost Louis Vuitton as a concession when Vuitton relocated to the suburban CF Chinook Centre in October of 2018. The Calgary economy has been struggling since oil prices tanked in 2014, and Saks Fifth Avenue opened a 115,000 square foot store in February of 2018 at CF Chinook Centre as well — Holt Renfrew is the clear market leader of the two in terms of designer offerings, with Saks lacking luxury ready-to-wear brands in its new Calgary storefront. Calgary will soon be able to boast that it has a Saks Fifth Avenue store, Holt Renfrew and a Nordstrom store, none of which will have full-line stores in Edmonton when Holts closes its Manulife Place unit in January.
We’ll report back with updates as the Edmonton store prepares to close, and we’ll photograph the store in the fall prior to its closing in January 2020.
Now located in Toronto, Craig is a retail analyst and consultant at the Retail Council of Canada. He's also the Director of Applied Research at the University of Alberta School of Retailing in Edmonton. He has studied the Canadian retail landscape for the past 25 years and he holds Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Laws Degrees. He is also President & CEO of Vancouver-based Retail Insider Media Ltd. Email Craig: firstname.lastname@example.org