Nordstrom closure ‘good news’ for Ottawa’s downtown long-term, retail expert says

Nordstrom will close its doors for good in late June, leaving its retail space at the CF Rideau Centre vacant.

While the Ottawa market was not a fit for American luxury retailer Nordstrom, at least one local market watcher believes its closure opens the door for other opportunities, particularly at the Rideau Centre.

Ian Lee, an associate professor at the Sprott School of Business, told OBJ that Nordstrom was “destined to fail” in Ottawa and that its closure will pave the way for the transformation of the Rideau Centre and, in turn, downtown Ottawa.

Lee argues that the Ottawa market was not well-suited to Nordstrom, saying that while Nordstrom targets “people who don’t quibble over prices,” Ottawa is not a wealthy city.

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“Most of us never went. I’m a professor, I am very well-paid and I have gone in a few times and walked out never buying anything,” he said. “I’m not condemning Nordstrom. That’s their market. But that’s not Ottawa.”

The challenge now falls to property owner Cadillac Fairview to fill the massive retail space at the Rideau Centre, more than 150,000 square feet. 

“I do not believe the Rideau Centre will die. It’s in an excellent location with great management,” Lee said. “But the leasing agents are going to be burning a lot of midnight oil and working a lot of overtime to come up with new tenants.”

On Monday, Canadian retailer Sporting Life Group announced it is launching a new chain of big box stores called Team Town Sports. It might consider some locations set to be vacated by Nordstrom, said chief marketing officer Frederick Lecoq.

Team Town Sports will open its first three locations this spring in Alberta and Ontario, with plans to expand to 25 stores across the country, the company said Monday. Sporting Life Group said the store will carry gear for a wide range of team sports, including hockey, basketball, soccer and baseball.

Nordstrom announced last week that, by June, it would shutter its six Canadian stores located at CF Chinook Centre, CF Rideau Centre, CF Pacific Centre, CF Eaton Centre, Yorkdale Shopping Centre and CF Sherway Gardens. Nordstrom Rack’s seven stores in Canada would also close, including one in Ottawa.

As Nordstrom’s largest Canadian landlord, Cadillac Fairview has yet to outline specific plans for the departing chain’s spaces.

“Cadillac Fairview is constantly assessing the ever-changing retail landscape and while it’s too early to speculate what we will do with these spaces in the future, our team is working diligently to manage this change and work toward an outcome that is in the best interests of our centres and our long-term success,” said spokesperson Janine Ramparas, in an email to the Canadian Press.

“This is long-term good news,” said Lee. “It wasn’t a good fit for Ottawa. And Nordstrom’s exit will force Cadillac Fairview to be creative and reinvent the Rideau Centre. This is a good thing, not a bad thing. 

“We should stop crying because this is good news for Ottawa and for Cadillac Fairview that will contribute to the redevelopment and reconstruction of the downtown.”

One route would be to divide the space into smaller locations for multiple stores, though  preferably not all clothing retailers, Lee suggested.

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