New momentum on Robson Street as new major retailers open up

Nov 2 2018, 6:23 am

There is an air of optimism on the Robson Street retail strip between Burrard Street and Bute Street, with new major and unique retailers providing the street with a much-needed boost.

For about a decade, the retail strip has been experiencing a concerning number of vacancies, or what has described as a “state of transition,” but it appears the street has finally turned the tide – especially with the 1000 block of Robson.

“I’m not sure if there will ever be a definitive ‘end’ to this transition but we’re certainly seeing things move in the right direction,” Martin Moriarty, the Vice-President of CBRE Limited’s Urban Properties Group, which is behind and represents many of the real estate deals on Robson, told Daily Hive.

MUJI took over several retail units, including Gap, in the 1100 block late last year to create a 14,500-sq-ft Vancouver flagship that is also its largest store outside of Asia.

Exterior of the MUJI Robson Store in downtown Vancouver. (Kenneth Chan / Daily Hive)

Forever 21’s two-storey, 30,000-sq-ft space was recently reopened as Indigo’s new Vancouver flagship bookstore, which replaces the company’s former Chapters location, which was located next to Robson Square.

“When the Chapters announced it was closing its Robson and Howe location, it was a huge loss for the downtown community,” said Teri Smith, Executive Director of the Robson Street Business Association.

“The announcement of their plans to re-open on Robson was met with much anticipation from the community and the new store did not disappoint. It is absolutely beautiful, inviting and has a very West Coast feeling to it. Their product offering from books to kids toys to fashion and home decor will attract a wider demographic to Robson Street and benefit the surrounding businesses.”

Heather Reisman, the founder, chair and CEO of Indigo, had similar sentiments: “When we had to leave our Robson location a few years ago, we always said that we would be back. We believe Robson street is truly the heart of Vancouver and are so thrilled to have our new store open.”

Indigo Vancouver flagship 1033 Robson Street

The new Indigo Vancouver flagship bookstore at 1033 Robson Street in downtown Vancouver. (Kenneth Chan / Daily Hive)

Located west of Indigo will also be a new two-storey retail building at 1067 Robson Street, located between Sephora and the Manhattan Building, replacing four small, single-storey retail buildings within older structures.

No retailer has been announced for this retail building spanning about 14,000 sq. ft. of floor area, but construction is set to begin in early-2019.

1067 Robson Street Vancouver

Artistic rendering of 1067 Robson Street, Vancouver. (Francl Architecture)

Another big gain for Robson on the 1000 block is Drake’s OVO store, which is slated to open later this month, a source who wished anonymity told Daily Hive last week. Although the store has a small footprint of just 2,000 sq. ft., occupying the former location of Boys’ Co, it is bound to be a major attraction given the growing popularity of OVO amongst the younger demographics.

“The former Boys’ Co. has been leased to a very exclusive tenant that has only a handful of stores in North America and Europe, which will be announced very soon and another major retailer is rumoured to be nearing a deal on the 1000 block as well,” continued Smith.

BoysCo' 1044 Robson Street Vancouver

The exterior of the Boys’Co store at 1044 Robson Street is set to become Drake’s OVO. (Google Maps)

Over at the intersection of Robson and Bute streets, several vacant retail spaces have recently been leased; the former Steamrollers space will become Yogibo Bean Bags, and although it has been leased a tenant has not been announced to occupy Qoola’s former space.

This isn’t to say there aren’t any vacancies, especially in the 1100 block, but these new major retailers are the largest swing in momentum Robson has seen in years.

“I think Robson is showing great signs of encouragement,” said Moriarty. “Vancouver, by way of contrast, faired better than most and market dynamics have always remained resilient here – mostly, as unlike some other major cities, Vancouver has been, and remains, ‘under-retailed’.  As such, we’ve always continued to see strong interest in our market even during some more challenging times in retail more generally.”

He says his firm is currently working with a “plethora” of local and international retailers who are interested in having a presence on Robson.

Steamrollers closing

Shuttered Steamrollers on Robson and Bute streets. (Kenneth Chan / Daily Hive)

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