The beginning of 2020 will not be remembered fondly by many in the Canadian retail industry. In this article, Retail Insider counts well over 700 store locations that will be closing or have recently closed in this country, with news coming in daily that more stores and chains will be shuttering. At the same time, some industry insiders are saying that many new stores and other concepts will be opening in Canada this year, including new international brands that will include fashion, food and beverage, fitness, and entertainment, among others.
After the December holiday shopping season, January is often a time when retail chains begin closing unprofitable locations and in some instances, shut down entirely. Store closings will result in significant job losses as well as headaches for landlords having to find ways to fill vacated spaces.
Carl Boutet, retail expert and Chief Retail Strategist at Studio Rx, explained how “January is always a tough month on retailers who struggled to make it past Q4 with inflated holiday revenue expectations.” He suggested that Canada may be “more over-stored than we thought,” though he remains optimistic that new concepts will come in to fill vacated spaces. “I suspect the long tail of indie retail will fill some of the void created by the departure of the larger undifferentiated mass market retailers,” said Mr. Boutet, while also saying that he was “puzzled by the complete closure of all retail locations for a brand like Bose that has so much to gain by having an engaging physical presence focused on discovery.” He went on to say, “many retail concepts haven’t changed in the past 10 to 20 years. Just think how much our lifestyles have changed in that same period of time.”
Retail expert Suzanne Sears, who owns Toronto-based Retail Staffing Canada, said that the store closures are due to several factors. That includes high rents for retail spaces as well as additional costs, as well as a shift in consumer preferences while many choose to shop online. Amid increasing cost of living and stagnant wages, many households are squeezed while at the same time discretionary income is increasingly being spent on experiences such as food and travel. At the same time, despite increases in minimum wages in some provinces, Ms. Sears said that employee salaries are less to blame for struggling retailers given the costs particularly associated with high store leases.
One source with a major landlord who was not authorized to go on the record to be quoted in this article, was otherwise optimistic. The source said that there were many concepts looking at coming into the Canadian market, including new retail brands as well as food and beverage, fitness concepts and entertainment concepts. European and US-based food and beverage brands will be entering Canada this year with Toronto being a particularly strong target, given the city’s diversity and population growth. The source also said that there will be a gradual increase in store count for new and many existing retailers over the next five years and that the source was otherwise optimistic for what will happen in 2020.
International retailers continue to enter Canada in record numbers. In 2019, Retail Insider counted more than 30 global brands that had opened standalone stores in Canada — in 2018, about 30 entered the country and in 2017, a record-breaking 50+ international brands came into Canada by opening stores. That might be an indication of why some established retailers are shutting stores in Canada — increasing competition from global retailers are more than ever fighting for Canadian dollars. Given the shifts in consumer behaviour coupled with new technology and brands going direct to consumer via online and social media channels, retail in Canada will never be the same again according to some experts.
The following is a list with a discussion of many of the retailers that will either be closing stores over the next few weeks in Canada, or have very recently done so. The numbers are staggering and the list below isn’t exhaustive. Retail Insider continues to receive information on chains shuttering, including several that have been revealed this week alone. Here are some of them.
Ten Thousand Villages: On Tuesday of this week, Ten Thousand Villages announced that it would be shuttering all of its corporate stores in Canada, as well as its headquarters and distribution centre in New Hamburg, Ontario. The Mennonite Central Committee, which is the Winnipeg-based charity that runs most of Canada’s Ten Thousand Villages stores, said that a “challenging retail environment” was a reason why it had decided to shutter all remaining corporate stores in Canada. The company’s Canadian e-commerce site and wholesale division will also shutter. Ten Thousand Villages operated here for 74 years.
The 10 remaining corporate stores in BC, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and New Brunswick will close before the end of May of this year. Ten Thousand Villages was known for its handcrafted products by artisans in developing countries. We were informed by a source that the head office would be shuttered by the end of February. However not all Ten Thousand Villages stores in Canada will shutter — separate boards also operate stores and eight of them will remain open in Canada for the time being. Ten Thousand Villages U.S., which is a separate entity, will remain operational as well and as of June 1st, the US division will be available to fulfill online orders for Canadians.
Bench: A source confirmed this week that all Bench stores in Canada will be closing as part of a Notice of Intention to file by Montreal-based Freemark Apparel Brands. According to its website, Bench operates 24 stores in Canada in BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario. Last year, three stores closed in Quebec. The casual clothing chain Freemark Apparel Group was also expected to bring the Esprit brand back to Canada, though the expansion didn’t take hold. Bench is a UK-based casual fashion brand that has had stores in Canada for years, and US-based Freemark had previously filed for creditor protection.
Papyrus: US-based stationery and greeting cards retailer Papyrus will shutter all 18 of its Canadian stores within the next few weeks, and clearance sales are ongoing. Papyrus operates 10 stores in Ontario, four stores in Alberta, two stores in Quebec, and two stores in British Columbia. Papyrus once had 450 stores in the United States — the company cited “current challenges of the retail industry” as a reason for its shuttering all stores, including south of the border.
Carlton Cards: The greeting card and gift chain, owned by Papyrus, is also shuttering all of its stores in Canada. According to a Google search, the company has 10 stores in British Columbia, eight stores in Alberta, three stores in Saskatchewan, three stores in Winnipeg, 25 stores in Ontario, at least two in Quebec, five stores in Nova Scotia, and two in Newfoundland. Five stores in New Brunswick and PEI are listed as ‘closed’, as is one in St. John’s Newfoundland. Competitor Hallmark will face less competition moving forward, though Hallmark also shuttered a few of its Canadian stores last year.
People are giving fewer greeting cards in the digital age, and stores such as Dollarama offer a variety often at a fraction of the price of those found in retailers such as Carlton Cards.
Clair de Lune: Quebec-based home accessories and decor retailer Clair de lune will close 44 of its 70 stores in Quebec and Ontario as part of a restructuring, according to a report this week in La Presse. Stores will close in the coming days. President Abert Levy blamed online shopping and excessively high rents in malls. The company, which employs about 300 people, filed for creditor protection on December 17.
La Senza: Canadian fashion retailer La Senza, known for its intimate apparel, is said to be closing 17 stores in Canada in the near future as parent company, Regent, downsizes the chain. Columbus Ohio-based L Brands sold La Senza to Regent in January of 2019 — L Brands bought La Senza for $710 million in 2006. La Senza will continue to operate its many remaining Canadian stores across the country, though some landlords have said quite a few stores have been struggling amid increased competition. At the same time, Canadian chain La Vie En Rose is said to be doing well here.
Update: The future of the entire La Senza chain is in question as multiple suppliers to the Canadian lingerie retailer filed papers on Friday, January 24 asking that the company be put in Chapter 7 bankruptcy in the US. La Senza owes US $9.3million to the suppliers. La Senza operates almost 110 stores in Canada according to its website.
Thomas Sabo: German jewellery brand Thomas Sabo’s Canadian stores will shutter. Grant Thorton is handling the bankruptcy filing. In the spring of 2017 the company had 16 stores in this country. Thomas Sabo operates at least eight stores in Canada at the moment, according to a Google search — its website is currently offline for “updates”. Thomas Sabo store are located in BC, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec locations appear to have been shuttered.
The Gap: San Francisco based fashion retailer The Gap is downsizing its Canadian footprint by closing at least nine of its Canadian stores. This follows several others that have shuttered over the past couple of years. New store closures include Gap units at Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre and on Queen Street West, Government Street in Victoria BC, Fairview Park in Kitchener ON, Centre Rockland in Montreal, as well as at CF Pacific Centre in Vancouver and at Bower Place in Red Deer, Alberta. Gap Kids stores at CF Toronto Eaton Centre and at the Yonge-Eglinton Centre in Toronto are part of the closures as well. Old Navy, also owned by the Gap, was to be spun-off from the company though that decision was recently reversed.
Pier 1 Imports: Struggling US-based home furnishings chain Pier 1 announced this month that it would close up to 450 of its 942 stores. The company hasn’t yet revealed how many of those are in Canada. Some landlords have said that sales have been less than stellar for some Canadian stores, and it remains to be seen if any will remain open after a tentative bankruptcy filing.
Things Engraved: Kitchener Ontario-based gift and keepsake engraving retailer Things Engraved quickly shut its Canadian stores this year after a 38 year run. The company was losing money despite turnaround efforts reported in Retail Insider in 2018. Things Engraved operated 73 stores (about a third of which were kiosks) in Canada earlier this month, which was down from 90 locations in the summer of 2018.
A statement on Things Engraved’s website states: “It is no secret that the current brick-and-mortar retail marketplace has not been a thriving sector of the Canadian economy, and this has unfortunately rung true for Things Engraved. Because of this, it is with great sadness that we have regrettably been forced to shut down our store locations. Our online store will remain open until further notice.”
Bentley Leathers: Montreal-based bag and luggage retailer Bentley Leathers is shutting 88 of its 250 stores in Canada amid a restructuring that was reported recently in Retail Insider. The company managed to come out of restructuring quickly with a strategy that will include new store concepts. CEO Walter Lamothe told Retail Insider that the retailer simply had too many stores and that the retail climate has changed — leases signed years ago were no longer viable and were bleeding the company’s finances. Mr. Lamothe said that he thinks Bentley Leathers has a bright future and will continue to operate for years to come.
Lowe’s/Rona: Home improvement retailer Lowe’s recently announced that it was shuttering 34 stores in Canada, 26 of which were branded as Rona. The company was said to be struggling amid competition as well as a reduction in consumer spending. Customer satisfaction surveys ranked Lowe’s poorly in many instances, which may have contributed to the issue. Retail Insider reported in December of 2014 that Lowe’s had planned to operate about 120 stores in Canada in the coming years, and sources familiar with the company have told us that there has been internal turmoil in the company, including various management layoffs that have not been reported in the press otherwise.
Destination Maternity: US-based maternity apparel brand Destination Maternity announced last year that it was shuttering stores in Canada, which is now confirmed to be all of them. In total, the retailer operated about 30 stores in Canada, most of which were branded as Motherhood Maternity. We reported on the fist batch of store closures in October of last year in a Brief.
WOW! Mobile Boutique: Mobile phone retailer WOW! Mobile will reportedly shut some of its Canadian stores amid low sales. Closures will begin in February. A statement from the company said that 80 locations would continue to operate. Considering there were recently 93 stores in Canada, one might figure that about 13 stores will shutter next month. Rogers and Telus jointly launched the WOW! Mobile concept in 2013 and Retail Insider was the first news source to report on it, following a tip from a reliable source in the know.
Bose: Pricey audio equipment brand Bose is shuttering its remaining four stores in Canada as part of a downsizing that will see 119 stores close in North America, Europe, Japan and Australia. About 130 stores will remain open in Asia. Last year, Bose shuttered two stores in Canada including a Vancouver unit which at one time was the company’s top performer in this country. We discussed Bose at length last week in an article in Retail Insider.
Zellers: The remaining two Zellers stores operating in Toronto and Ottawa will close at the end of this month, marking the end of the brand which was once a retail powerhouse with 350 stores. The two remaining stores operated primarily as clearance centres for Hudson’s Bay Company merchandise — Target took over many of the Zellers leases from HBC in 2011, and many were converted to Target stores. After a disastrous couple of years in Canada, Target exited the country amid losses exceeding $5 billion dollars, shuttering all 133 Canadian locations in early 2015. We reported on Zellers closing its final Canadian stores in August of 2019.
Miniso: Chinese variety retailer Miniso, which positions itself as a Japanese lifestyle brand, has quietly closed many of its Canadian stores after announcing plans in 2017 to open about 500 locations nationwide. Miniso’s entry into Canada was challenging from the beginning — the Chinese parent company in late 2018 applied to put the Canadian division into bankruptcy amid claims of fraud, though a deal was said to have been worked out. Investors operating Miniso stores in Canada have reached out to Retail Insider to inform us that there continues to be turmoil and that the Chinese parent company is attempting to buy them out for pennies on the dollar, amid litigation. Many of the shuttered Miniso stores were independent franchises that were losing money amid supply and other issues. Incredibly, the company has publicly stated recently that it plans to continue opening many locations across the country.
Links of London: Upscale UK-based accessory and jewellery retailer Links of London has been liquidating its five Canadian stores as the entire chain shutters globally. Four of the Canadian stores were in the Greater Toronto area and one was in Vancouver. Links had planned to open several more units in Canada until its parent company saw turmoil as discussed at length this month in an article in Retail Insider.
Ikea: Swedish home furnishings retailer Ikea is shutting all five of its ‘pick-up and order’ store locations in Ontario this month. The concept was launched about five years ago with plans to roll the concept stores out into smaller markets nationally. Ikea will continue to operate its large stores in Canada and recently announced that it would be looking to open urban format stores in the coming years, including in downtown Toronto.
Holt Renfrew: Large-format Canadian luxury multi-brand retailer Holt Renfrew shuttered its Edmonton store on January 11th, and will close its Montreal store on Sherbrooke Street West this spring. The Edmonton store closure was due in part to vendor partners not wishing to operate concessions in downtown Edmonton, and West Edmonton Mall scooped luxury brand Louis Vuitton which was said to be responsible for more than 50% of sales in the Edmonton Holt Renfrew store. In Montreal, the spectacular 250,000 square foot Holt Renfrew Ogilvy will be finished in the spring, which was made possible by merging Selfridges Group-owned Ogilvy and Holt Renfrew. The Holt Renfrew chain overall is said to be doing well, with several units seeing annual sales well surpassing $100 million. A planned second Vancouver-area store was recently said to have been cancelled several months ago.
Other store closings: Sources across the country have reached out to Retail Insider to inform us that many stores have been closing in various markets coast-to-coast, including plenty of independent retailers that are struggling amid declining foot traffic and costs associated with operating stores (rent, taxes, and additional costs). We haven’t had the opportunity to quantify the numbers as store closings have been spread out across the country and may not be otherwise tracked. Some important brands have closed single locations — earlier this month beauty and make up brand MAC shuttered its store on Toronto’s Bloor Street West, and Vancouver-based RYU recently closed its CF Sherway Gardens unit in Toronto, for example. Detroit-based Shinola also recently closed its only Canadian store, located on Queen Street West in Toronto — we reported on its opening in the summer of 2016. Various other stores such as a People’s Jewellers store in Saint John, New Brunswick, as well as Kings Fine Jewellery at Southgate Centre in Edmonton, closed last month. Feel free to add other store closings that you’re aware of in the comments section below in this article.
Various other store locations closed in late December, including all of Williams Sonoma’s Quebec stores. A Vancouver location was set for closure though negotiations with its landlord will see it remain where it is for the time being.
We were also just informed by a reader that Victoria’s Secret has shuttered its large store at CF Sherway Gardens in Toronto. Other store closures for the lingerie and underwear retailer are expected — the number of store closures in Canada over the course of the next three months will likely well surpass 500, which could be record-breaking in terms of total store count.
Despite the extensive list of store closings above, many landlords, brokers, and retailers have high expectations for this year as innovative concepts expand while some outdated brands shutter stores. The retail industry is changing amid a shift in consumer spending and preferences. Online shopping continues to grow faster than brick-and-mortar sales, though many still seek out physical retail experiences for a variety of reasons. Consumers are being squeezed amid increased cost of living due to housing and other expenses, and whatever discretionary income that might be available is being spent on experiences and technology such as pricey mobile devices. Retail Insider will be interviewing industry experts over the course of the year and reporting on what is expected to come as we shift into a new era.