Retailers are looking at 2019 as a year when a strong B.C. economy will keep sales growth robust, even as e-commerce continues to chip away at bricks-and-mortar store sales.
The future of retail space in both traditional and emerging spaces near Vancouver transit stations will likely gain clarity, while established prime shopping strips in the city struggle to remain relevant.
And while some of those strips have endured plenty of empty storefronts, there will be a collection of new retailers staking territory and vying for success.
One emerging retail area in Vancouver that is likely to be a high-traffic hub in a decade is unlikely to be on many people’s radar in 2019, as its transformation is largely in a conceptual stage.
Work crews, however, are gutting longtime retail spaces on the northwest corner of West Broadway at Cambie Street, where a second-floor Original Joe’s restaurant has long had prominent signage. A ground-floor Starbucks and a string of other businesses stretching west all vacated space months ago to make way for a mixed-use building that will have five storeys of office space above two storeys of retail.
Pacific Crown Management Co. Ltd. gained a development permit earlier this year for the Yorkson Investment Co. Ltd.-owned site at 510 West Broadway, which is across the street from the Broadway-City Hall Canada Line station.
The project is significant because it is the first of many projects that are in various stages of conception. Those projects are expected to transform the area into a hub because it will in future be home to the intersection of two transit lines. Work on the Millennium Line Broadway Extension is expected to start in 2020 and complete in 2025.
B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation told Business in Vancouver that work to determine exact station locations is underway, and the ministry is now initiating discussions with property owners.
Rumours have circulated in retail circles about the possibility of a shopping centre being built under city hall and its lawns, which are south of the Canada Line station. The City of Vancouver is allotting $2 million for “master planning for the city hall precinct” in its 2019 budget.
Other potential projects in the neighourhood could be on sites such as 310 West Broadway, about a block east, where there is now a No Frills grocery store, said Retail Insider Media owner Craig Patterson.
“It’s safe to say that there are multiple proposals for development based on the fact that transit is being expanded in that area,” Patterson said.
The city’s current shopping hub servicing two transit lines is at the corner of Granville and West Georgia streets, where the landmark Hudson’s Bay Co. (HBC) building has been subject to much speculation over its future.
HBC and joint venture partner RioCan REIT put the store’s real estate on the block in 2017 and were rumoured to have been close to a sale in 2018. That deal fell through, however, prompting a reassessment of the site’s future and possibly the severing of an agreement between HBC and workspace company WeWork.
WeWork had been slated to lease the top two floors so HBC could consolidate in the rest of the building.
“I don’t know what will happen with WeWork,” Patterson said. “That was to be the sublease agreement. They were supposed to come in. The Bay was going to move menswear into the basement. We’ll see if that happens.”
Retailers along longtime prime shopping streets such as Robson and Alberni, meanwhile, will have their work cut out for them in the new year.
Robson Street in 2018 suffered a lot of rotation and plenty of empty storefronts in prime blocks east of Bute Street.
“I was told that some stores’ sales on Alberni Street, in the luxury area, are down,” Patterson said, adding that he has heard that the reason for the sales decline is a drop in traffic from Chinese tourists — and this was before Canada arrested high-profile Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou.
Rumblings about boycotts of Canadian goods and anti-Canada sentiment in Chinese media may stem the flow of wealthy Chinese tourists to Vancouver in 2019, and that could hurt shopping strips such as Alberni Street, Patterson said.
Nonetheless, he expects new retailers such as Warby Parker, Vacheron Constantin, Montblanc and Cartier to open Vancouver stores and to do well.
Hermès’ future two-storey flagship store is under construction on the southwest corner of Burrard and West Georgia streets. Retail sales in B.C. in 2018 are expected to grow by less than 4 per cent, which would be less than half of the 9.6 per cent retail sales growth in the province in 2017 — the highest annual rate since 1994, and the largest increase among provinces.
B.C. has the lowest unemployment rate among provinces and the economy is strong, however, and those are positive indicators for retail sales growth in 2019.