British Columbia·Photos

Robson Street's 'for lease' signs signal changing times

Years ago, retailers would jump at the opportunity to showcase their brands on Robson Street. Today, more than a dozen stores sit empty.

Rents for the 1100 block of Robson Street have dropped 20 to 25% and a dozen stores are up for lease

Rents for the 1100 block of Robson Street have dropped about 20 to 25 per cent since five years ago, says Mario Negris. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Years ago retailers would jump at the opportunity to showcase their brands on Robson Street. 

But walk through the outdoor shopping district today and there are a dozen of empty storefront windows displaying 'for lease' signs within a three block radius — from Jervis to Thurlow Streets.

"Up until probably five years ago, most often you wouldn't even see a vacancy," said Mario Negris, a commercial realtor. 

"Tenants would say I'm prepared to cut a cheque to get on the street."  

But in the past few years, a long-list of retailers have moved out, including Chapters, French Connection, Mexx, the Starbucks on the kitty-corner and most recently the Canucks store. 

The Mexx store on Robson Street has been sitting empty for months, but it will soon be turned into the Nike store. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Negris — who has been working on Robson Street for 20 years — said the shift is specific to the 1100 block of Robson Street, because foot traffic has moved east towards Nordstrom and Pacific Centre Mall. 

Retail consultant David Ian Gray, the founder of DIG360 Consulting, agrees. 

"It was really triggered by two things. One was the rise of the luxury area off Alberni," Gray said.

"The other has been a more sudden shift triggered by Nordstrom taking over from Sears — what we used to call the urinal, because no one wanted to walk down that part of Robson," he said. 

Commercial realtor Mario Negris says they're trying to bring more interesting stores to Robson Street. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Rents dropped 20 to 25% 

Negris said even though rents have dropped, high property taxes continue to feed the problem. 

"Your property tax on Robson Street is $50 to $60 a foot," he said. "We're talking about some pretty hefty numbers that add to the occupancy costs of tenants." 

Rents for stores on Robson Street between Bute and Thurlow Streets are around $125 to $150 a square foot, down 20 to 25 per cent from its peak five years ago. 

"I do think it is a good deal right now for retailers to get on Robson, because you are signing up for rents which are really at a discount," he said. 

During its peak, rents for Robson Street were about $200 to $250 a square foot. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Future is bright

Negris believes things will turn around, despite the number of empty storefronts. 

Rather than popping a tenant to plug a vacancy, he is trying to introduce a mix of new brands to Vancouver — brands similar to Ladureé, the popular macaron store which has had a line-up since it opened in March. 

"The more desirable we make it as a shopping destination, thethe greater the success tenants will have as well," he said. 

Negris doesn't expect it to be long until the street once again sees peak rents of $200 to $250 a square foot. 

"It will only take one [store] of some prominence to sign on and others will be drawn to the area," Gray agrees.

Dozens of 'for lease' signs can be seen on Robson Street storefronts from Jervis to Thurlow Streets. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)


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