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Swatch readies to return to Robson Street with stand-alone store

Swiss watchmaker had operated a store on Robson Street decades ago, and had a giant replica watch at Expo '86
The Swatch store is set to replace the lower level of what was a Milestones restaurant.

The world's largest watch company plans to once again have a stand-alone Vancouver store under its Swatch brand – a flagship location at 1155 Robson Street set to open in September. 

This will be a return to Robson Street for Swatch, which decades ago operated a store on Robson Street. The brand is also known to Vancouverites for having a gigantic replica of a Swatch watch at the city's world's fair Expo '86 – an installation in front of the Swiss pavilion that was as tall as an eight-storey building and 20 metres wide, which made it a common meeting spot for fairgoers.

Switzerland's The Swatch Group Ltd. has more than a dozen brands, including Omega, Tissot and Longines. It has 11 stand-alone stores branded Swatch in Canada, including one that recently opened on Government Street in Victoria. Its only other Swatch-branded store in B.C. is at Metropolis at Metrotown in Burnaby. The company also plans to open a third Toronto store and a first store in Calgary this summer.

More than 100 retail stores across Canada sell Swatch watches. The stand-alone stores promise to elevate the Swatch brand for consumers while helping the watchmaker profit more by cutting out third-party sellers, Retail Insider Media owner Craig Patterson told BIV.

"It's a very welcome addition to the 1100 block or Robson Street, which has seen a few retail closures recently," he said. "There's been a few openings, but it's been a bit slow [in that part of Robson Street.]"

Cactus Club last year closed its restaurant at 1136 Robson Street which had 2,884 square feet on the second floor, and 1,400 square feet on the ground floor. Eddie Bauer closed its 3,000-square-foot store at 1150 Robson Street.

The new Swatch store will replace the lower level of what was a Milestones restaurant in the building known as John Robson Place. The upper level of that former Milestones restaurant has been turned into office space.

"We have offers in negotiation on the Cactus Club space," Marcus and Millichap senior vice-president Martin Moriarty told BIV. "For the Eddie Bauer space, we have leased that to Knix – the Canadian women's intimate-wear brand."

Other Swatch Group brands operate stand-alone stores, and there is an Omega store at the Hotel Vancouver that opened prior to the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in part because Omega was an Olympic partner. The store then expanded its footprint at the hotel. 

Moriarty said that he has been involved negotiating real-estate deals on Alberni Street for stand-alone luxury-watch brands such as Rolex, Tudor and Hublot. 

The Swatch Group's decision to put its stand-alone Swatch store on Robson Street makes sense, he said, because Swatch is a more accessible brand, with some watches priced at less than $100. That kind of store, he said, is better suited to the higher-traffic on Robson Street. 

Moriarty said he has seen data showing that foot traffic on Robson Street now exceeds pre-pandemic levels. 

"Anecdotally, too, it feels very busy down there now," he said.

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