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How did retail-insider.com come about?
Our founder, who is a lawyer by day and prefers to stay anonymous, launched it in 2012. It was really a culmination of years observing the retail scene. He grew up in Cold Lake, Alberta, secretly poring over fashion magazines. I’m from Deep Cove where the uniform was Taiga jackets and backpacks, but I was obsessed with Fashion TV even in elementary school. I did an art project in Grade 6 where I sketched Ines de la Fressange, Karl Lagerfeld’s muse. It was an unusual choice. Some people have a mind for baseball or numbers; I had a mind for fashion designers. We connected at the opening of The Room at the Bay. He liked my boots.
Who provides the tips that break the big stories?
Commercial real estate brokers. Employees of the large retail companies. But it’s also about research and legwork. It’s not sexy or glamorous. Court records provide fascinating context and history. And we broke a story last fall about the new men’s department at Hudson’s Bay by walking up to an on-site construction worker and asking if we could see the plans.
Has Robson got it right?
It’s a tourist destination. It should be a major attraction, but right now it’s just not. About 50 percent of the south side of Robson Street’s 1100 block is up for lease right now. It’s an epidemic! There should be anchor stores at each end to draw shoppers up and down the street. Uniqlo at Jervis Street would be fantastic. Because the expanded Pacific Centre and eventually Nordstrom are just going to take business away.
Speaking of U.S. retailers…
Stores here should be scared of Nordstrom. The demeanor of their staff, the merchandise, the merchandising, everything to do with the retail environment is elevated. Add in the proliferation of online shopping and the competition for that luxury dollar-Hudson’s Bay, God help them. American retailers own the “clienting” experience. They train their staff to get to know their customers and what they like, to alert them to sales and new product arrivals, to be friendly and approachable. Canadian retailers have a lot to worry about.
What would you change about our shopping scene?
I remember that as a kid going to Woodward’s for Christmas was the most exciting thing. My mom would park the car by Purdy’s, and we’d always get a treat. It was a big draw for us suburban kids-you went downtown because there was something special you couldn’t get in a mall. You still have that today to some extent with the resurgence of high-end luxury, but for the middle market, why go downtown? You can get all the same things in Coquitlam, in Metrotown, in Langley. I would love to see the downtown area create something more special. I like the idea of limited edition capsule collections available exclusively in the downtown stores, like they do at H&M and Topshop. It’s a way to get people out, even in the rain. Downtown needs more of that!
Note to readers: the originally published version of this article stated that the website’s founder grew up in Cold Water, Alberta and the site’s url was Retailinsider.com. These were errors. The correct town is Cold Lake, Alberta, and the correct url is retail-insider.com. The original article also stated that over 50 per cent of the south side of Robson Street was up for lease. Since publication, we have learned that only 50 per cent of Robson Street’s south 1100 block is for lease.