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Rendering of Yorkdale Shopping CentreCourtesy of PHILIP CASTLETON/Yor

Since the advent of e-commerce, retailers have had to adapt to shifting consumer demands. Some have thrived, keeping pace with digital innovation and even disrupting the status quo. Others have gone the way of the dodo.

Yorkdale Shopping Centre in Toronto belongs to the former group, and has secured its future by establishing itself as a luxury destination that rivals the country’s most posh shopping streets. As the Greater Toronto Area’s population has grown, so too has an appetite for high-end fashion, beauty, tech and housewares. Many international luxury brands with stores in the city’s Bloor-Yorkville neighbourhood enjoy enough consumer demand to justify a second location in Toronto, and Yorkdale is where they’re going. The North York mall lists annual sales figures of $1.6-billion, generated by 18 million visitors.

Its high-end strategy began about 12 years ago and stems from the success of the shopping centre’s Holt Renfrew store, says Jay Drexler, the national vice-president of retail leasing at Oxford Properties, which is the managing partner at Yorkdale. In 2009, Yorkdale’s first international luxury addition was Tiffany & Co. In the following years, the shopping centre added one new luxury brand per year, which recently increased to three or four annual additions.

Drexler, who will be speaking at the second annual Canadian Arts and Fashion Awards (CAFA) Fashion and Retail Forum in partnership with The Globe and Mail on April 19, says that when considering a new tenant, its digital footprint is equally as important as its physical spaces.

“We want to know what their e-commerce and mobile strategies are. We want to know that, if we’re going to do a big deal, that they’ve got those other channels built out,” he says. “The customer is going to physically come to our environment and visit the brands that connect best with them. You have to be multi-channel.” He sites Restoration Hardware, which opened in the former Sears space at Yorkdale last year, as an example of a retailer that provides a complete experience. “It’s a pure show room,” he says. “You order everything online. From there, you’re either working with a designer or one of the store employees and everything’s brought directly to your home.”

Going forward, Drexler says that the mix of retailers in the shopping centre will include a smaller concentration of fashion boutiques and more offerings in the beauty, home, tech and entertainment categories. “We’re seeing that the pipeline of retail has evolved. It’s no longer just through traditional means of building a business store-by-store from the ground up, and expand that and grow regionally until you cover a market, and then move to the next market. There’s also e-commerce (businesses) that go bricks-and-mortar, brands that only need to build awareness for a short time and then move on. We’ve had to adapt to that and even then we layer in additional uses,” he says. “There’s clearly a major shift happening.”

The CAFA Fashion & Retail Forum in partnership with The Globe and Mail Style Advisor takes place on April 19 at Arcadian Loft in Toronto. For more information and tickets, visit


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