Something for everyone
Canadian’s are typically quick to point out what makes them different to Americans. But in the city of Toronto, lying so close as it does to the US, its neighbours influence is clear to see – thrown into the cultural cocktail that also includes French and British heritage and customs. It’s part of Toronto’s key characteristics, one that allows for a city that feels so cosmopolitan. And it is all the better for it.
Toronto is quaint but proud, and strong, bold and showy yet reserved and polite – a totally multicultural city with a warm and friendly nature.
Retail here may at first glance appear to resemble any other big capital city, with a varied mix on offer at main shopping streets, large shopping malls and smaller shopping neighbourhoods. But such is the blend of influences in the city that it is like visiting New York, Covent Garden and Paris, all within the same space.
Yorkville is the corporate neighbourhood. With the feel of midtown Manhattan, it’s where the big brands can be found, particularly down Bloor Street across the typically named Mink Mile. The usual suspects – Luis Vuitton, Burberry and Hermes – all reside here. But it’s also home to some more energetic brands such as Kit & Ace, J Crew and Banana Republic.
It’s also home to the rather disappointing department store, Hudson’s Bay Company. It’s an aging and faded glory story, but like many ‘institutions’ Hudson’s Bay Company still manages to struggle on without embracing change. For me, it’s now in its twilight years, unappealing to younger shoppers – offering nothing beyond than plain and ordinary. It’s likely that Hudson’s Bay Company could be dealt a fatal blow if it remains apathetic; following the likes of BHS is the UK. It is yet another reminder of the need for retailers to embrace change and continue to innovate instore, time and again.
In contrast, the Eaton Centre plays host to a wonderful new department store that is everything Hudson’s Bay Company is not. At long last, Nordstrom has replaced the huge gap left by the large department store of Eaton’s, the centre’s namesake that fell bankrupt in 1999. Once a rich and powerful national founding family retailer that eventually lost its way and was forced to close. It’s what we are seeing right now in the USA with Sears, who acquired Eaton’s assets following its bankruptcy.
Although simple in design, the latest branch of upmarket chain Nordstrom is well conceived and has a tasteful interior that is elegant, modern and sophisticated. Executing a premium experience with near perfection, it is a store that should act as a clear role model to John Lewis, and others like them.
The rest of the Eaton Centre matches the quality of the Nordstrom Department Store. Having been totally refurbished, it now plays host to a great mix of national and international lifestyle brands. From Indigo and Roots to H&M and Forever 21. It’s a relatively small affair, but the quality is high and the stores here operate with their latest look and feel.
The real hub for young and indie retailers however is Queen Street West. Buzzing with its eclectic, funky vibe, it is home to some trendy local stores such as The House of VR and Cumbrae along with great internationals like Lululemon, Kheils and Timbuk2.
The wide range of available retail coupled with the injection of different cultural influences all combine to create a city of real awe. Although rarely regarded as a must-visit place to shop, Toronto is a wonderful city – fascinating, enchanting offering a breath of fresh air – with an undoubtedly exciting retail future.