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Ogilvy department store - Christmas windows. The familiar sight is a Montreal institution.

OGILVY

It began life 144 years ago as a modest one-counter store and grew into a favourite shopping destination of Montreal's anglo elite, with attractions such as a daily bagpipe concert, before eventually being bought by out-of-province investors.

Now Ogilvy is back in Quebec hands and intent on taking its upscale formula into suburbia.



The Montreal showpiece will replicate its "store-within-a-store" mix of high-end brand names - like Louis Vuitton and Hermès - in other locations in Quebec, says Pierre Simard, managing partner of Champlain Financial Corp., a private equity firm.

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Champlain is part of a consortium that announced on Wednesday it had acquired Ogilvy. Other consortium members include the real estate fund of Solidarity Fund QFL, shopping-centre developer Devimco Inc. and BB Real Estate Investment Trust, owned by the Bombardier-Beaudoin family.

"Previously owned by a Toronto-based investment fund and by the CBC Employee Pension Fund, our acquisition repatriates this fashion and style icon back to Montreal," said Jean-Francois Breton, co-owner of Devimco.

Ogilvy's roots reach back to 1866, when Scottish-born James Angus Ogilvy opened a shop on Mountain Street. After several moves to other locations as the business grew, Mr. Ogilvy opened in 1912 what was considered at the time to be one of Canada's most up-to-date department stores, at the present location on St.-Catherine Street.

Matrons gathered for high tea and scones in Ogilvy's Tartan Room. Concerts and organ recitals drew crowds to the 300-seat, oak-panelled Tudor Room on the fifth floor.



Time took its toll and the elegant carriage trade destination lost some of its sheen in the sixties and seventies. It changed hands several times over the past 20 years and - in the mid-1980s - took a bold leap into the store-within-a-store retail model.

About three-quarters of Ogilvy's 135,000 square feet of space is leased to between 30 and 40 specialty boutiques and the store is carefully positioned between The Bay and Holt Renfrew & Co., Mr. Simard said.

The new owners are confident the Ogilvy concept will take root in suburbia. But some observers say it won't be easy.

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"Whether Ogilvy can translate the business model they've been working with into other locations is an open question," said Mark Cohen, a former chief executive of Sears Canada and now a professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business in New York.

"If it were up to me I wouldn't venture into a suburban location unless it was a very well-established retail centre that has shown it can attract an upscale clientele," he said.

"The true luxury customer tends not to shop in a shopping mall."

But Mr. Simard said the mix of brand names can be adjusted to fit the location.

"We're going to adapt the brand mix. I'm not sure that Vuitton sees itself on the south shore of Montreal."

The Quartier Dix30 shopping mall in Brossard on Montreal's south shore will be the location of the second Ogilvy outlet, with a launch set for spring 2012.

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Other potential locations for new stores include Laval, on Montreal's north shore, and Quebec City, said Mr. Simard.

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