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Last weekend I walked into one of my favourite Men’s stores in a local mall, Yorkdale Shopping Centre in Toronto, to arrange for a pair of pants to be mended.  The retailer, Harry Rosen, asked me to stick around for a few minutes while they did the repair.  After looking at their display of Armani ties, I walked across the hall into the Hudson’s Bay store.  Like many men, I don’t shop for clothes too often and when I do, I go to a select group of stores, in a very focused way, to buy what I need.

After passing the cosmetics counters that have always been across the hall from Harry’s, I had quite a shock.  In fact, I would say that the HBC store was unrecognizable to me.  The previously rather bland retail environment was replaced with a dazzling array of designer fashions.  The men’s department that had always been on the main floor was nowhere to be found.  This caused me to reflect on the many changes taking place in the retail sector.

As I walked through the mall, I saw a number of well-known American retailers that have found their way to Canada.  The list now includes Victoria’s Secret (also just next to Harry’s), American Eagle (a few doors away), J Crew and William Sonoma.  Another one of my preferred men’s shops (Brooks Brothers) has also landed in downtown Toronto.  Canada has been discovered, not by Christopher Columbus, but by Target Stores and Nordstrom, that have announced their intentions to head north. 

Canadian retailers have been preparing for the invasion for some time.  Clearly, the HBC makeover is directed at blunting the attack from Nordstrom, Target and others.  Holt Renfrew, one of Canada’s leading luxury retailers, that is affiliated with Lord and Taylor in the United States, has announced its intention to open a chain of HR2 stores.  The stores will feature unique merchandise sourced from many of the same designers that supply Holt Renfrew, but at a lower price point.  While Holt Renfrew executives have denied the suggestion, the stores will likely resemble Barney’s New York’s less expensive Co-Op chain or Neiman-Marcus’s lower-priced Cusp stores. 

Not to be outdone, one of Canada’s major furniture retailers, Leon’s Furniture, bought The Brick this week to gain efficiencies and economies of scale and to more effectively respond to a slowing housing industry.  They also hope to compete more successfully against Target Stores.

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