It’s no surprise that retailing in Vancouver is a treasure trove for business owners, and attracts a wide cross market of shoppers from various backgrounds and ages. As Chuck Chiang reports in The Province “Vancouver’s retail market, driven by wealthy locals, tourists taking advantage of the devalued Canadian dollar, and new immigrants, currently ranks as Canada’s top location in terms of annual sales-per-square-foot at more than $1,000. Toronto sits second at around $860.”

“Vancouver is a very young retail market and many brands have not yet opened street stores,” said Mario Negris, executive vice president of CBRE’s (Coldwell Banker Richard Ellis)  retail group in Vancouver. “We anticipate a vast number of new entrants into the downtown retail landscape. … In the mid-market, we anticipate a revitalization on streets such as Robson and Granville as larger international users solidify locations in the market.”

Although we have the consumers, many stores breaking into the Canadian market do not look first to downtown Vancouver. The reason? A lack of leasable storefronts, and wait for it-malls.  “According to recent data from the Centre for the Study of Commercial Activity at Ryerson University, Vancouver’s per-capita mall space (at 11.4 square feet for every person living in the region) falls far behind the same figure for not only Toronto (at 16.4), but also Alberta (15.2 for Calgary, 16.2 for Edmonton)”.

I would argue that with the Vancouver climate, the high modal split to active transportation and transit, that Vancouver is not your typical “mall town”. You’ve got Pacific Centre and Oakridge Mall-and a lot of great retailing storefronts in several commercial areas, that fits into the locals’ ideal of a stroll and a shop at grade on walkable streets.

With predictions that Vancouver’s retail sector will lead the way in sales in Canada,  Muji, a Japanese clothing and accessories store is looking for a downtown location. You may have visited their locations in Toronto, Japan or in Europe. They are well designed and  well-organized. While Vancouver is the home of the  Asian cuisine inspired  T & T Supermarkets that opened their first store in 1993, and has several Goldilocks Bakery locations which specialize in Filipino delicacies, we have yet to attract well-known large Asian retailers which will have instant recognition and bring more diversity to the Vancouver retailing market. Will these new brands reboot retail redevelopment in downtown Vancouver?




  1. There’s a lack of large scale retail space in downtown Vancouver – suitable for mid-size box stores like Muji or Uniqlo, or department stores like Saks 5th Ave or Simons.
    In part the absence could be the result of zoning, mixed use podiums with small retails units at grade, or owners who do not want to redevelop with purely retail space.
    The space also has to be in the right location.
    Case in point – the Telus Garden condo podium was to have 2.5 floors of retail space. The upper floors of retail space were later rezoned for office space. So instead of a large “anchor” retailer moving in, there are only a bank and a few restaurants at grade. Across the street, L’Hermitage does better, with an IGA and a Homesense on top of each other.
    A block away, at L’Atelier, a beauty school occupies the corner retail space and a level or 2 above that. The rest of the retail frontages are occupied by restaurants.. The corner space could have been “anchor” retail space.
    Likewise, the former Granville 7 theatres complex was to be converted retail space, but is now the upper levels are being marketed as office space.
    But it seems that retailers have their “must have” locations, and Robson east of Granville and Granville too far off-Robson don’t appear to fit the bill.
    It’ll be interesting to see whether Bentall will be able to attract large scale retailers to its Main Post Office redevelopment project (midway between SkyTrain stations and in a retail deadzone).
    Downtown Vancouver still has very compact retail districts.

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