By Christopher Lui
A retail evolution for 2019 is happening at North America’s largest mall, West Edmonton Mall located in Edmonton. These changes are showcasing how West Edmonton Mall is adapting to the changing retail landscape while securing its place as a global leader in the realm of ‘retailtainment’ — something other shopping centre landlords are doing to bring in shoppers to spend time and spend more money.
One of the most exciting additions to West Edmonton Mall is the recent opening of French luxury brand Louis Vuitton in Phase 3. The store officially opened on June 7, 2019. As reported by Retail Insider in June, the store took over part of the the former 6,270 square foot Banana Republic space on the upper level. Banana Republic has not relocated within the mall. Louis Vuitton occupies approximately 4,500 square feet and carries an expanded assortment of leather goods and accessories for both women and men. There is also a dedicated jewelry, footwear and perfume selection. For the opening, in addition to the monogram collections, the Louis Vuitton store introduced a variety of exotic handbags that ranged from $9,000 to $15,000. There was even a queue for customers waiting to enter the store during its opening, as is still the case on some days. For the remainder of 2019, Edmonton will have two Louis Vuitton stores. The Louis Vuitton Holt Renfrew Edmonton store will operate until the end of December 2019. The strategy of operating two stores in the interim will help to transition existing customers to the West Edmonton Mall location as well as start building a new customer base. Partly as a result of Louis Vuitton’s exit from downtown Edmonton, Holt Renfrew will close its Manulife Place in January.
Taking over the remaining space formerly occupied by Banana Republic is WORKHALL Studio, which was relocated from beside the mall’s LOFT store. WORKHALL Studio is an Edmonton-based fashion company with the mission of transformable and purposeful clothing. The clothes are designed and tailored in-house and produced in Los Angeles. The relocated store opened in April of 2019. It is interesting to note that many of the structural elements of the store were recycled from the previous Banana Republic store including the large pillars in the interior of the store, which saw a refresh including a salmon-coloured paint job.
To complement the arrival of Louis Vuitton, multi-brand premium jeweller GemOro Goldsmith relocated in May 2019 to its new upper level location across from the new Louis Vuitton store. GemOro’s previous location was on the main level in Phase 1 near the Centre Stage by Hudson’s Bay. GemOro is a premier destination for luxury timepieces and fine jewellery from brands including Cartier, Omega, Tudor, Breitling, Zenith, Tag Heuer, Gucci, and Mikimoto pearls. GemOro is also an Official Rolex Retailer and this location boasts a separate Rolex shop-in-shop.
In this up-and-coming luxury cluster, Canada Goose will open a 5,000 square foot store beside the Michael Kors Mens store soon. As reported by Retail Insider in April 2019, the large Canada Goose location will feature a ‘cold room’ where visitors can try on parkas in sub-zero temperatures. This will be the second Canada Goose store in the country to feature such an installation, following the opening of a Montreal Canada Goose flagship in November of 2018. To generate excitement prior to the open, the hoarding also has a View-Master set up displaying images of Canada Goose product.
In the Spring 2019, there were vacancies in this area with the relocation of True Religion Jeans and the closure of Rudsak which sold outerwear, handbags, clothing, footwear & accessories. The True Religion space has been leased to Matt & Nat which is a Montreal-based eco-friendly accessory fashion brand. As reported by by Retail Insider in April 2019, Matt & Nat was founded in 1999 and its name is derived from the words “mat(t)erial” and “nature”. Matt & Nat is known for not using leather or any other animal-based materials in its bag and accessory designs. Moving into the Rudsak space is Mackage which is another Montreal-based fashion retailer focused on luxury outerwear, women’s ready-to-wear, and leather goods. Founded by Eran Elfassy and Elisa Dahan in 1999, Mackage is stocked in 27 markets. It has six own-brand stores in the US and Canada and 943 stockists globally. Mackage officially opened at West Edmonton Mall on Friday.
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Calling all our friends in Edmonton: the new #MACKAGE store is now open! Pop by to peruse the latest collections of puffers, parkas, moto jackets and all of our iconic outerwear with edge. Located on Level Two, Phase III. 🧥 🛍️ . . . #yeg #yyc #wem #wested#westedmontonmall #travelyeg#weareyeg #yegliving #yeggers#yegblog #exploreedmonton#yegmoms #yyctoday #calgary#yycliving #yegevents #mackage #wemshopping
The addition of these new luxury retailers in West Edmonton Mall’s up-and-coming ‘luxury area’ bode well and complement the existing upscale retailers including Coach, Kate Spade, Marc Cain, Michael Kors, Stuart Weitzman and Tiffany & Co.. Other high-end brands are said to be looking at spaces near Louis Vuitton as a high-end cluster of retailers develops on the mall’s upper level, according to mall management. In addition, with the closure of Holt Renfrew Edmonton in January 2020 as reported by Retail Insider in May, these West Edmonton Mall luxury tenants will help to attract the luxury customer to the mall and as a result, away from Edmonton’s downtown core.
Other luxury retailers joining West Edmonton Mall include SJP by Sarah Jessica Parker. The 2,440 square foot luxury shoe store opened on June 8, 2019 and replaces a former Town Shoes store which was located adjacent to BRBN st., a food and beverage area with a New Orleans theme. Town Shoes shuttered all of its 38 stores earlier this year after parent company DSW announced that it was closing the chain. The shoe styles at SJP by Sarah Jessica Parker primarily feature high-heels and are priced in the $400-$700 range per pair. To celebrate the opening of her new store, Sarah Jessica Parker traveled to West Edmonton Mall on on June 15, 2019. She hosted a fashion show and select customers had a chance to shop with her. For more details on the event see this this Retail Insider article.
Other new fashion retailers joining West Edmonton Mall include UNIQLO which is a Japanese clothing retailer. As reported by Retail Insider in June 2019, this 17,000 square foot store takes over the space formerly occupied by Murale, Laura and Brown’s Shoes. UNIQLO is a popular Japanese fashion retailer that focuses on high quality affordable casual wear from underwear to outerwear. The store’s grand opening is Friday September 27. The focus for UNIQLO’s expansion in Canada was to create brand awareness in larger cities such as Toronto and Vancouver and expanding now into secondary markets such as Edmonton and soon, Montreal. Yuichiro Kaneko, CEO of UNIQLO Canada states that "Our entry in Alberta represents an important step in our company's expansion strategy in Canada, and we are very pleased and excited to further show our commitment to Canadians by expanding in a new province. We look forward to introducing UNIQLO and our high quality, affordable LifeWear apparel to Edmontonians and the people of Alberta and welcoming them in our new store in the fall."
Edmonton-based salon and spa concept Evelyn Charles will relocate its EvelynCharles Academy to West Edmonton Mall in the winter. The 10,000 square foot space, which will provide education in areas including hair, cosmetology and aesthetics, will be located in part of the mall’s former Target space. The EvelynCharles Academy in downtown Edmonton, located in the Edmonton City Centre shopping and office complex, will close as a result.
An education-focused retailer Scholar’s Choice will also be opening in the mall, with details to follow.
UNTUCKit opened on July 2, 2019 beside the future Canada Goose store. As reported by by Retail Insider in June 2019, UNTUCKit is a New York City-based men’s casual brand known for its shirts that are meant to be untucked. This store carries the full line of UNTUCKit men's apparel, including shirts, sweaters, pants, outerwear and other categories. Brokerage Oberfeld Snowcap is leading UNTUCKit’s expansion within Canada.
Morphe Cosmetics opened in the former Indochino space in Phase 3 at West Edmonton Mall. Founded in 2008, Morphe is an LA based beauty retailer that offers professional-grade makeup at an affordable price. Initially launching in Canada through Sephora, Morphe is looking to grow its store count in Canada.
Alternative retailers are opening up in West Edmonton Mall as well. This fall, Aurora Cannabis is slated to open in Phase 4 in the former MyPet space. Although hoarding is up, the official opening date has not been announced. The opening of the store is impacted by two factors, previous zoning bylaws and the provincial licensing process has been suspended by Alberta Gaming, Liquor & Cannabis Commission since November 2018. As of February 2019, the City of Edmonton has updated it separation distances for cannabis stores allowing them to open in shopping centres. The provincial government has not yet begun to release new licenses. According to Heather MacGregor, Director of Communications for Aurora Cannabis, the vision for the West Edmonton Store is to create a retail space which incorporates an educational experiential environment along with selling cannabis in accordance with all regulations.
A smaller electronics retailer Markit10 opened in Phase 1 in June 2019. An Edmonton based company, its focus is being a destination for all things mobile with a focus on price and shoppers who prefer an in-person shopping experience. This is a marked shift from other retailers who are shifting to an exclusively online presence. The retailer’s website does not include online shopping. This is an interesting strategy and time will tell if they are successful as their target market must visit the mall. The retailer’s main point of differentiation will need to be customer service as they are an exclusively in-person shopping experience.
Akianne Styles is another fashion retailer opened in Phase 1 in the previous Perisan carpet store. The Edmonton-based retailer focuses on fast fashion and carries women’s, men’s and kid’s wear and also wigs and weaves.
Adding to the mix of food retailers, an Edmonton based French style bakery, Reinette Cafe & Patisserie opened in the former DNA Tea space located in Phase 1. Previous to DNA Tea, this space was occupied by Teavana which was shuttered by Starbucks in 2017 and was subsequently sued by Cadillac Fairview for vacating CF’s mall properties. DNA Tea briefly relocated to a kiosk location near the Ice Palace, however it closed in the spring of 2019. Reinette serves a variety of French pastries, specialty coffee, and even nitrogen infused cold brew coffee and tea. Customers can order items to go or enjoy them in a cozy seating area.
The former Sweet Jesus Ice Cream shop in Phase 2, which opened to much fan fare, has been replaced with another ice cream shop, Dragon’s Breath. The new concept’s point of differentiation is adding frozen liquid nitrogen to its treats so that when customers consume the ice cream and breathe through their nose, the vapour is expelled similar to a dragon creating a smoke effect. The mall has two locations of Dragon’s Breath with another store also in Phase 2 near the Galaxyland amusement park. Time will tell if this is another food fad or if this trend is here to stay.
BRBN st. is adding a new restaurant to the mix. Japanese Village, which is an Edmonton based chain of Teppanyaki restaurants, is opening soon. Teppanyaki is an interactive dining experience where food is cooked on an iron griddle in front of diners. This restaurant fits perfectly for the shoppers at West Edmonton Mall since it appeals to both young and old looking for a unique dining experience. In a mall filled with international brands, it is great to see Edmonton based companies also opening up shop.
New fast food retailers also have joined the Food Courts in both Phase 1 and 3. In Phase 1, Explore India, which is local Edmonton food truck turned brick and mortar, opened on Tuesday August 13, 2019. Explore India specializes in East Indian Cuisine. Also joining the Phase 1 Food Court is Basil Box which serves Southeast Asian Thai and Vietnamese flavours. This concept is following in the customization and personalization trend in retail, as they offer a mix and match concept in building your entrée. Gangnam Street Food, which is an Edmonton based restaurant, opened in Phase 3 earlier in August 2019 and serves Korean street food. In addition, a fast food concept called Bourbon St. Grill is also opening soon. However this concept has no affiliation to Triple Five Corporation, which is the developer and owner of West Edmonton Mall. Innovated Restaurant Group, Inc. (IRG) operates Bourbon St. Grill, which serves Cajun and Creole cuisine. These new food retailers add additional international flavours to the food court in a fast food style. In addition, they are in tune with 2019 Food Trends focusing on Pacific Rim and international flavours which will appeal to shoppers.
Adding to its entertainment offerings, West Edmonton Mall is converting the former West 49 space which had 2 levels and an underground skate park into a Go Kart track. In its former life, this was a movie theatre space. The development permit from March 7, 2019 indicates that the mall is developing the space. There is hoarding around the space with a race track theming however an opening date has not yet been announced. To keep shoppers onsite, entertainment options are a great way to enhance their shopping experience.
Relocated and Renovating Retailers
The addition of new retailers in the mall also involves relocating existing tenants. The addition of Matt and Nat meant that True Religion Jeans needed to be relocated. The new store is now on the main floor in Phase 3 beside The Gap combination store which includes both Men’s, Women’s and Children’s fashions.
Filling the second level space of the former 149,000 square foot Sears space will be The Brick. The Brick is currently located in Phase 3 near Professor Wem's Adventure Golf. The current store is a massive 45,000 square feet with three levels. As an original tenant to West Edmonton Mall in 1985 with the mall’s Phase 3 expansion, this store was expanded in the 2000s into a larger concept store which was one of ten in Canada at the time. To accommodate the additional space required by The Brick, the additional floors were added by digging underneath the main level. This decision was made as the mall did not want to expand upwards as it would have impacted the Europa Boulevard themed section that is directly above the store. There are currently two levels of selling space with the remaining third level used as warehouse space. According to then The Brick President, Kim Yost, The Brick faced an issue by adding a basement floor, “everybody in furniture retail knows that you don’t want anything off the entrance-level floor.”
Founder Bill Comrie created a unique main entrance from within the mall. The main entrance is a suspended floor-lit catwalk which opens below to the lower floor. This creates a feeling of openness so that customers can see that there is an additional floor below. To create additional impact, a bank of 96 television monitors was added to the back wall. By creating a unique entrance, The Brick is able to draw shoppers into their store. During the initial opening, there was even a wall completely covered with mattresses. In addition, there was scale model house built in the store with a series of galleries with professionally decorated rooms. The relocated store in Phase One opens on Friday September 6, 2019 at 5:00 pm.
West Edmonton Mall management says that it is exploring options for the former Brick space, and is close to a lease deal for the main floor of the mall’s former Sears space.
To celebrate the grand opening, of the newly relocated Brick, shoppers will have the chance to meet Tessa Virtue, the 2018 Olympic Champion and 3-Time World Champion, on Saturday September 7. Additional grand opening events will continue all weekend. With their relocation to Phase 1, it will be interesting to see what retail concepts will be used for this new space as the store will be on the second level. The footprint of the Brick store has also been evolving during the renovation. It does not appear that The Brick will be occupying the entire second floor footprint of the former Sears space.
To accommodate the space required by UNIQLO, Melanie Lynn and Laura operated by Laura Canada moved into the former Express location — Express closed its Canadian stores in 2017. This 15,000 square foot space is ideal as Laura Canada’s strategy is to position Laura, Laura Petites and Laura Plus all under one roof. In addition, there is enough space for their Melanie Lyne brand to be located beside as well. This strategy allows shoppers to have access to a wide variety of sizes within the same store. In addition, it also allows Laura Canada to maximize operational efficiencies including human resources.
With the influx of luxury retailers to the mall, Hugo Boss renovated its current location in Phase 2 to reflect its newest branding and store design.
West Edmonton Mall has seen a few store closures this past year. However they do not seem to impact the mall overall. Most notably, high end kitchenware retailer Williams Sonoma closed its only Edmonton location several months ago. The store opened to much fanfare in September 2012. Starting in 2017, Williams Sonoma Inc. said that it was in the process of closing 80 underperforming stores across North America as the retailer’s leases expire within the next three years. From the perspective of the mall, the space was quickly leased by Brown’s Shoes which relocated from its previous space beside Pottery Barn, creating one of the largest Brown’s stores in the company.
Located in Phase 2, Murale closed in March 2019. Murale is a free-standing luxury beauty chain owned by Shoppers Drug Mart Corp. This space was 5,000 square feet over 2 levels, including a mezzanine. Shoppers Drug Mart has been slowly closing Murale stores across Canada and is expected to shutter the chain entirely in the coming months. This high traffic space has already been allocated to the new UNIQLO store.
In Phase 3, an Edmonton luxury women’s boutique Rozah Boutique closed at the end of July 2019. The retailer carried European high end brands including Versace, Seventy and Chiara Boni. It occupied a space that was formerly an HS Henry Singer store, which is a high end men’s retailer. Both retailers have consolidated their locations to Downtown Edmonton with Henry Singer in Manulife Place and Rozah Boutique in Commerce Place.
Henry Singer was supposed to vacate Manulife Place for ‘The ICE District’ for an expansion of downtown Edmonton’s Holt Renfrew store, which never ended up materializing.
Food and beverage concept Cacao 70 recently closed at West Edmonton Mall, though it could reopen under the ownership of a different franchisee, according to mall management.
To attract the millennial shopper, West Edmonton Mall has also added Instagram Walls right outside Galaxyland and Guest Services in Phase 2. Branded as the Photo Shoppe at West Edmonton Mall, there are four rooms that have various themes around colour as per photos above. There is currently a pink and blue room. Shoppers are encouraged to take photos and upload them to social media using the hashtag #WEMPS with a chance to win weekly prizes. Currently the space is also being used to promote a Back to School promotion. This is a great way to attract shoppers to this section of the mall and also create Instagrammable moments that will be widely shared online. Although the mall is large, there are not too many Instagrammable walls throughout.
There has been an accelerated pace of change for West Edmonton Mall in 2019 which features an impressive assortment of retailers, restaurants and entertainment concepts. According to the Retail Council of Canada Shopping Centre 2018 Study, the mall ranks in number 2 with over 28 million shoppers visiting in 2018 and number 30 with sales per square foot at $767. Landlord Triple Five confirms that the mall’s central corridor delivered annual sales averaging $1,182 per square foot for the 12 months ending June 30, 2018. With all of these changes, it will be interesting to see if West Edmonton Mall can top these numbers.
West Edmonton Mall’s landlord Triple Five Group also owns the massive Mall of America in suburban Minneapolis, as well as the American Dream retail and entertainment complex that is set to open in suburban New York City in late October. The developer also plans to open another mega-complex (co-owner Don Ghermezian prefers to not use the word ‘mall’) in suburban Miami, Florida, and more could follow in the years to come, according to sources familiar with the developer.
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.