Holt Renfrew, Edmonton’s longtime retailer, shutting its doors

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One of Canada’s great dynasty department chains is leaving Edmonton, but what does this mean for the future of big retail?

Take a casual stroll around the downtown core of Edmonton and you’ll see the ever-expanding fingerprints of progress. Streets gutted for new transit by way of the LRT, and landmarks falling for the sake of shiny, new, modern buildings. Yet, Holt Renfrew, a retail dynasty that has made Edmonton its home for 69 years, (30 of which it spent downtown) is making a hasty escape from the in-progress city core. With such a retail mainstay departing from the downtown, what does this spell for the future of retail shopping in the city?

Well, nothing good.

In a press release from the company published by CBC, Holt Renfrew has stated that this closure is part of a $400 million initiative to focus on its large-scale stores in more profitable sectors. This comes as no surprise as the writing was on the wall back in 2015, when the Ottawa and Quebec City stores closed their doors.

When asked about the nature of the Edmonton branch’s closure, the company immediately suggested contacting its corporate office in Toronto, which is in charge of all public statements regarding the issue — but the corporate office was unavailable for comment.

In its official press release, Holt Renfrew also stated that the Calgary location will remain open. With all these clues in place, it is becoming pretty clear as to what this means from a logistics standpoint — Edmonton is losing its luster as a retail hub.

What makes this tragic from a municipal perspective is that this closure of a dynasty location is happening in tandem with a fast tracked gamble to rejuvenate the downtown core. But can the retailer be blamed for this? Just looking at downtown Edmonton from a business standpoint, the area appears far more pulled apart than profitable.

Earlier this month, a major intersection construction project for the LRT shut down the entire 101 Street intersection for over four weeks — not ideal considering that 101 Street is a major street that borders both Holt Renfrew and the main City Centre entrances. That isn’t even counting all the previous construction in the surrounding area.

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Considering major downtown construction started about four years ago, it’s amazing the Edmonton location didn’t close with its Quebec and Ontario counterparts. This fact is made even more amazing because it is the smallest regional store the company has in the entire country, according to the press release.

The location’s official closure will be January of 2020, leaving a 35,000 square foot void that might — judging by how downtown treats its retail locations — be empty for some time.

Even though this blow to the downtown Edmonton image has come as no shock, it still spells uncertainty for the core area, as retail focus moves closer to the Ice and Brewery districts and LRT construction continues to cannibalize the sector. At this rate, there may not be much left in the city’s center.

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