By Craig Patterson
Los Angeles-based fast fashion retailer Forever 21 announced Sunday evening that it would close its 45* Canadian stores as the struggling company fights for survival. New tenants will have to be found for almost 899,000* square feet of retail space in Canada at a time when other retailers have shuttered Canadian storefronts, leaving a glut of retail space for landlords to backfill. Other retailers will also be hit as Forever 21 holds clearance sales during the busy winter Holiday Season. *(Article updated to include Outlet Collection Winnipeg store).
The Canadian subsidiary of Forever 21 was granted protection under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (the “CCAA”) by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice (Commercial List) in Toronto on Sunday. PricewaterhouseCoopers Inc. was appointed as Monitor in the CCAA proceedings to oversee a full liquidation and the wind-down process.
“After considering numerous options, we have made the difficult decision to discontinue operations in Canada. While this decision was not easy to make, we believe it is the right one for Forever 21 Canada. We had hoped for a different outcome, but after years of poor performance and challenges set forth by the headwinds facing the retail industry today, our Canadian operations are simply no longer economically viable,” said Bradley Sell, Chief Financial Officer of Forever 21 Canada.
Forever 21 Canada currently operates 45 stores in Alberta, B.C., Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia and employs approximately 2,000 people, according to the company’s press release. Forever 21 Canada stores will remain open during the liquidation process which will no doubt affect other retailers as the busy shopping winter holiday shopping season approaches.
A separate application by Forever 21 in the US saw the retailer gain protection under Chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code to enable a reorganization of its business. Forever 21 says that its intention is to continue to operate the majority of its U.S. and Latin American locations “as usual”. The retailer will close up to 178 stores in the United States and up to 350 over all. Stores in Mexico and Latin America will remain open.
“This restructuring will enable the Company to become a stronger, more competitive enterprise, and a more viable company that is better positioned to prosper for years to come,” says the Forever 21 press release.
E-commerce made up 16% of Forever 21’s sales, and the retailer saw its revenue drop to US $3.3 billion last year, down from US $4.4 billion in 2016. The restructured company is expected to bring in US $2.5 billion in annual sales. The company employs about 32,800 people, which is down from 43,000 in 2016.
Forever 21 was not performing well in Canada overall, according to sources. Despite some stores being in the 12,000-18,000 square foot range, many were selling less than $3 million annually according to some landlords wishing not to be named in this article. In one prominent mall, a landlord said that Forever 21’s sales were less than $2 million annually, and that the landlord was actively looking for a tenant to replace it.
Forever 21 entered Canada in 2002 when it opened its first store at West Edmonton Mall in Edmonton. Several years later the retailer began expanding into other markets coast-to-coast.
An industry source provided Retail Insider with information on Forever 21 in Canada including locations, store sizes, and landlords housing the retailer. In total, Forever 21 occupies almost 899,000 square feet in Canada with an average store size just under 20,000 square feet. According to the document supplied, several major landlords will see considerable vacancies with the exit of Forever 21. Ivanhoé Cambridge, Cadillac Fairview and Oxford Properties will be the most exposed in terms of having to re-tenant Forever 21 spaces.
According to a research document supplied to Retail Insider by a source on Sunday night, landlord Ivanhoé Cambridge will see the most vacated space of any Canadian landlord when Forever 21 closes its 13 stores in Ivanhoé Cambridge’s malls. The total square footage vacated will amount to 279,729 square feet, according to the document. Forever 21’s presence in Ivanhoé Cambridge properties include Edmonton Outlet Collection near Edmonton, CrossIron Mills near Calgary, Metropolis at Metrotown in suburban Vancouver, Guildford Town Centre in suburban Vancouver, Tsawwassen Mills in suburban Vancouver, Mic Mac Mall in suburban Halifax, Mapleview Centre in Burlington Ontario, Bayshore Centre in suburban Ottawa, Niagara Outlet Collections near Niagara Falls, Oshawa Centre near Toronto, Vaughan Mills near Toronto, Montreal Eaton Centre (which was recently relocated to make way for a soon-to-be-announced competitor; Forever 21 is currently housed in the retail component of Place Montreal Trust), and Place Laurier in Quebec City. A reader in the comments below pointed out that the Outlet Collection Winnipeg also has a Forever 21 “RED” store, which wasn’t included in the research document with 18,902 square feet of space.
Landlord Cadillac Fairview houses 11 Forever 21 stores in its shopping centres. In total, Forever 21 occupies 228,557 square feet in Cadillac Fairview malls, which include CF Richmond Centre in suburban Vancouver, CF Polo Park in Winnipeg, CF Limeridge in Hamilton, CF Fairview Park in Kitchener, CF Masonville Place in London Ontario, CF Rideau Centre in Ottawa, CF Sherway Gardens in Toronto, CF Toronto Eaton Centre in Toronto, CF Fairview Mall in Toronto, CF Carrefour Laval in suburban Montreal, and CF Fairview Pte-Claire in suburban Montreal.
Landlord Oxford Properties houses seven Forever 21 locations, totalling 165,782 square feet, according to the document. Forever 21 has stores at Kingsway Shopping Centre in Edmonton, Square One in Mississauga, Upper Canada Mall in Newmarket Ontario, Scarborough Town Centre in Toronto, Yorkdale Shopping Centre in Toronto (the largest in Canada at 39,520 square feet over three levels), Promenades Gatineau near Ottawa, and Galeries de la Capitale in Quebec City, which was already announced for closure.
Landlord Primaris has three Forever 21 stores on its properties, occupying a total of 50,358 square feet. That includes Forever 21 stores at StoneRoad Mall in Guelph Ontario, Place D’Orleans in Ottawa, and Dufferin Mall in Toronto.
Landlord SHAPE Properties has two Forever 21 stores in its centres, including a Forever 21 “RED” High Street in Abbotsford BC and Uptown Plaza in Victoria BC.
Cushman and Wakefield’s Devonshire Mall in Windsor, Ontario has a Forever 21 “RED” store. Landlord RioCan has a Forever 21 “RED” store at Georgian Mall in Barrie, Ontario. Landlord Morguard’s Bramalea Town Centre in suburban Toronto houses a Forever 21 store. Larco-owned Park Royal in West Vancouver has a Forever 21 location, and landlord Harden has a Forever 21 “RED” concept store at its Les Avenues Vaudreuil property in suburban Montreal.
Almost all of Forever 21’s Canadian stores are located within shopping centres. A street front Forever 21 location at 1255 Ste-Catherine St. W. in downtown Montreal spans about 25,000 square feet over three levels.
Several high profile Forever 21 locations have already closed. In early 2018, Forever 21’s Robson Street flagship in Vancouver closed to make way for Indigo, and the standalone Forever 21 at the northwest corner of Yonge Street and Dundas Street closed this spring to make way for a Rogers ‘experience’ store.
In September of 2014, Retail Insider announced that Forever 21 was expanding its ‘F21 RED’ concept into Canada. The concept expanded into several shopping centres after it first opened at Devonshire Mall in Windsor, Ontario, in the fall of 2015.
Forever 21’s Canadian store closures come at a bad time both for landlords as well as other retailers. Landlords have also recently lost retail chains such as Payless Shoes, Town Shoes, Gymboree, Crabtree & Evelyn, Green Earth and the Hudson’s Bay’s Home Outfitters chain of stores, among others. That follows the colossal failure and exit of Target from Canada in 2015, as well as the more recent shuttering of all Sears Canada stores in early 2018.
At the same time, the Christmas shopping season is about to ramp up as Forever 21 commences clearance sales at its 44 Canadian stores. Some fashion retailers could be hit if shoppers gravitate to Forever 21 stores for apparel and gift purchases, at a time when other chains are already struggling.
Forever 21’s exit from Canada provides other retail chains the opportunity to expand further into Canada. Top malls in the country will have little trouble repurposing Forever 21 spaces. Less productive centres may see vacancies for a while longer, though Forever 21’s Canadian storefronts are considerably smaller than those vacated by Target and Sears in recent years. Nevertheless, landlords at the recent ICSC Conference in Toronto said that it is becoming increasingly more difficult to lease space in many Canadian markets.
We’ll continue to follow this story and update is as details unfold. For more information on this breaking story from a US perspective, the New York Times appears to have been first to break the story Sunday evening.
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