The difference in store design, retailing philosophy and typical customer between Sears Roebuck and Co. and Saks Fifth Avenue is large. It was that divide which general contractor Broccolini had to bridge in gutting a former Sears store in Toronto’s Sherway Gardens mall and converting it to a Saks Fifth Avenue showplace of retailing.
Since its first store opened in 1924 on Fifth Avenue in New York, the American chain of Saks Fifth Avenue stores has experienced significant expansion. Although the luxury chain has operated stores for years in several international markets, including Saudi Arabia, Mexico City and Puerto Rico, it has not created an outpost in the United States’ neighbor to the North, Canada, until now. Perhaps to make up for lost time, this spring Saks Fifth Avenue will open two stores simultaneously in Toronto, one downtown and the other in the converted Sears store in the Sherway Gardens mall.
Renovated for a fixed price construction cost of $12.5 million, the luxurious 150,000-square-foot retail establishment will include approximately $4 million in extras to the former Sears store, which was built during the 1970s. These include fancy light fixtures, chandeliers, expensive tile and wood flooring, and $800 rolls of wallpaper in rooms that might use up to $5,000 worth of it.
“It was all very fancy stuff,” Project Manager Cristian Yanez emphasizes. “It was a complete gut all the way to the structure. All the mechanical and electrical was ripped out, as well as basically everything else. We ripped out all the old mechanical systems – everything was gutted. There were all brand-new HVAC units, pickup units, generators – everything was a brand-new system. The only thing left was the structure and the exterior shell – everything else was redone 100 percent.”
Designed by Alex Rebanks Architects, the store has three levels, the first of which is in a full basement. The second level connects with the mall, and the third level functions as a mezzanine. The renovation was begun in mid-April 2015 and was completed in time for the Feb. 25 grand opening. In the final months, the finishing touches were being added to the store, with elaborate furnishings, fixturing and merchandise displays installed.
“It was a quick schedule for this kind of store,” Yanez says. “We carried an evening shift and long hours per shift, and also a lot of weekend work, as well. The schedule shifts varied. Each shift was usually eight hours, but we had them go up to 10, 11 or 12 hours.”
The varieties of flooring called for in the renovation encouraged Broccolini to start from scratch – the bare concrete slab. “We started off and demoed all the way down to the bare concrete and flooded the entire floor with poured concrete,” Yanez says. “What we had was in very bad shape and had lots of different, weird elevations. So we flooded the entire thing with concrete to give us a nice slick starting point. We installed everything from ceramic tile, porcelain, marble and carpet to wood flooring. We had maybe 10 different types of wood flooring and 10 different types of carpets and ceramic floor.”
The mechanical systems were placed on the new roof, which had been installed by the building’s new landlord before Broccolini started the renovation. The ceilings on each floor are elaborate. “It’s not a flat ceiling,” Yanez says. “It really has bulkheads, cove lighting and various features, so it’s on multiple levels.” The store also includes two restaurants, which necessitated installation of systems to support foodservice operations in those locations.
The escalators function as a dramatic focal point of the store. “You see the top floor through the escalators,” Yanez says. “You see all the way down through a little opening in the floor from level 2 to level 1 where we open the floor and structure and put some glass balustrades around it. The main stairs for the store that we opened up the slot for and rebuilt is a new fancy stair with a glass balustrade and leather handrail, and all wrapped in wood.”
One of the challenges of the renovation project was the fluidity of retailing and how trends and fashions change so quickly, even more so nowadays. “Saks Fifth Avenue likes their stores a certain way, and the trends are always changing, so they allow lots of changes to the design and systems in the building,” Yanez says.
The exterior façade of the former Sears store was completely redone for Saks Fifth Avenue. Fortunately, one of the challenges of the project was not from Mother Nature. “The weather was fantastic here, and it really helped us finish on time,” Yanez says.
Among the largest changes on the exterior was installing windows, which it never had. Another major change was using completely different exterior materials than had been there originally. “We basically put a new façade on top of an existing façade,” Yanez says. “It was just the old classic white brick for Sears, and we put on an entire new structural system that held framing and aluminum panels and new windows – everything. If it’s not covered in aluminum panels, everything else got covered in exterior insulation finish system stucco.”
Another major aspect of the project on the exterior was redoing the main entrances to the location.
“We built a new structure and framing of the main entrances, new canopies and all brand-new doors,” Yanez points out. “The main entrance we busted out. So we had a flat façade with an old canopy. We demoed the canopy, and we built a new structure in front of the building’s façade, which gave it some new levels. We basically bumped everything out and gave it a little more dimension and wrapped everything in aluminum panels. ”
The finishing touch was installation of three large new logos for Saks Fifth Avenue, which were placed over the two entrances and on the side of the store that faces a highway.