Robson Street retail scene bears scars of pandemic

Key shopping area bristles with for-lease signs, papered windows – while Alberni Street remains comparatively strong

cafe crepe gk
The location where Café Crepe formerly operated is empty and boarded up, with a development-application sign on the window from Inspired Cannabis Co. | Glen Korstrom

A stroll along Robson Street in downtown Vancouver reveals an array of for-lease signs and boarded-up windows, highlighting the vital shopping strip's struggle to stay afloat during the pandemic. The good news is that a number of in-progress renovations and coming-soon signs hint at possible recovery on the horizon. 

One block to the north, on Alberni Street, there are comparatively few empty shops, although one location appears to have been vacant since 2017.

Robson Street Business Improvement Association executive director Teri Smith told BIV that there are some new businesses set to arrive, such as the French bakery Paul, and the Japanese variety store Oomomo.

Traffic is down because of fewer tourists, and the commercial district has hollowed out, she said.

"We’re really missing that demographic," said Smith. 

Her statistics show that October was the street's best month of the pandemic, but traffic is still down 40% compared with last year. 

Some businesses are doing better than others.  

"Unfortunately long-term businesses such as Café Crepe did not fare well," Smith said. 

"This pandemic really was the straw that broke the camel’s back with some of the businesses. Some of them were already having some struggles, such as DavidsTea. Also J.Crew. Aldo is still open but they have filed for creditor protection."

Robson Street has a long list of locations in transition. Here is a look at the street between Hornby Street and Burrard Street: 

919 Robson Street: former Foot Locker location is empty with no signs on the windows. 

foot locker

948 Robson Street: empty with the sign Escents on the building; realtor sign on window is for Hillview Renovations. 

escents

The block of Robson Street between Burrard Street and Thurlow Street is one of the strip's busiest. Here are some highlights from that block:

1024 Robson Street: empty with signage for DavidsTEA still on the building; realtor sign for CBRE is on the window. 

davidstea

1032 Robson Street: Former Café Crepe location is empty and boarded up, with a development-application sign on the window from Inspired Cannabis Co. 

crepe

1067 Robson Street: Foot Locker renovations are taking place. 

foot locker

1080 Robson Street: A for-lease sign is on the windows for what is described as prime retail space.

prime

1088 Robson Street: Former J.Crew store has papered windows, and a generic for-lease sign. 

J crew

1092 Robson Street: Former NYX Professional Makeup store has for-lease information on the windows. 

make up

The part of Robson Street that is between Thurlow Street and Bute Street is the main part of the street's fashion district. Here are some highlights of that block:

1101 Robson Street: Camper store has a sign on the window saying that the store will reopen soon. 

camper

1144 Robson Street: Former Skio Music store has signs on the window that Oomomo is coming soon. 

oomomo

1145 Robson Street: There are papered windows but no for-lease sign. 

1145 robson

1160 Robson Street: There are papered windows, and a for-lease sign from Avison Young. 

1160 Robson

1164 Robson Street: Hoarding advertising says that the bakery Paul is coming – something announced pre-pandemic. Sign on the hoarding is for the construction company Willow Spring. 

paul

1165 Robson Street: Hoarding says Hello Nori is coming soon. The company plans to open in mid-December. 

hello nori

1175 Robson Street: Former Robson Sports store still has that old signage. For-lease sign on window is for CBRE. 

robson sports

1176 Robson Street: The windows are papered over, and there is a for-lease sign for Colliers. 

robson

1189 Robson Street: Papered windows, old awning sign that says CNKW and accessories; for-lease sign is for CBRE. 

robson

1194 Robson Street: Former Prime’s Thai Tea store has papered windows, and no for-lease sign. 

primes

1195 Robson Street: Hoarding is emblazoned with colourful art, and a sign that says, “leased.” 

leased

The next block of Robson Street, between Bute Street and Jervis Street ends the busiest retail part of the street. Here are some highlights from that block: 

1228 Robson Street: Old Aveda signage remains; no for-lease sign. Windows are not papered, passers-by can see inside, where there are no products on shelves. 

aveda

1234 Robson Street: Cordon Rouge Restaurant signage remains. Chairs and restaurant equipment is there, but the location was not open, and its phone number is out of service. 

restaurant

1248 Robson Street: Graffiti on windows. Several for-lease signs for Dave Hall. 

dave hall

1280 Robson Street: Yogen Fruz signage remains. Windows are partly papered. Sign dated March 25 says that the business is temporarily closed for COVID-19. 

yogen fruz

sign

1284 Robson Street: Signage for Gram Pancake. Hoarding saying that Gram Pancake is coming soon, but there is also a business for sale sign in the window. 

gram

1286 Robson Street: New Westcanna signage is up and windows are papered. 

west

1288 Robson Street: AR Pacific Jewellery & Accessories Ltd. signage is up. Windows are papered. Legal notice is on the door. 

ar

 

Alberni Street, in contrast, is doing comparatively well

alberni

Here are some highlights along Alberni Street:

1037 Alberni Street: Papered windows; signage on windows says Italian Kitchen is moving to Burrard Street – something that happened in November 2017. 

italian

1190 West Georgia Street: Stores are open, although a development application sign indicates a planned redevelopment with new retail space.

development

1170 Alberni Street: Window signs say, “Your business would look good here.” There is a for-lease sign, with CBRE as the contact.

alb

Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association CEO Charles Gauthier said Alberni Street seems to be doing fine, primarily because it is luxury retail, and there are many local people who are able to support that sector – maybe because they have a little more disposable income because they are not travelling.

"We’re all earning at different levels, and we’re all impacted differently by the pandemic," he said. "Some people are doing very well."

Many of the stores on Alberni Street are also international brands, and Gauthier said that he has seen people in lineups at some luxury retailers. The cafe Thierry is also doing very well, and has lineups. 

thierry

"You’re getting quality, and service with high-end retailers, and those are hallmarks of everlasting retail," said Gauthier. •

gkorstrom@biv.com

@GlenKorstrom