Fashion Central’s Sandra Neill
Opening up an independent boutique in a sea of high-volume, retail fashion chains can be daunting for an upstart clothing designer. There are many factors to consider, from expensive lease agreements to the right price and product mix, to an overwhelming workload consisting of 12-hour workdays. Not too mention perhaps the most important factor when determining success — location.
Enter Fashion Central, an upcoming complex situated on Stephen Avenue and First St. S.W., committed to creating unique shopping experiences, free of the repeat stores that appear in suburban mall after suburban mall in Calgary’s lacklustre retail landscape.
For Sandra Neill, vice-president of research and marketing and member of the Encorp Group, a family-run company with developments like the Clarence Block (which houses McNally Robinson) and Art Central under its belt, Fashion Central has been a long time coming, and the timing, finally, is right.
“Calgary is a young city,” remarks Neill, “and becoming more fashionable. There seems to be more designers emerging, and there aren’t a lot of retail spaces available to them.”
With a plan to open the complex in three phases beginning with the McNaughten Block space in spring 2008, Fashion Central is due for full occupancy by early 2009. When completed, the interconnected buildings of the McNaughten, Hull and Alberta blocks will house 24 local and international boutiques.
What boutiques will be in place is still being determined, but Calgarians and local clothing designers can expect a blend of businesses from high-end shops on the main floor to reasonably leased spaces on the upper levels, giving designers the opportunity to create and sell from their shops, much like Art Central.
Not only will Fashion Central offer Calgarians much-needed diversity, it will also offer visitors the chance to shop within walking distance of their downtown hotel. With established hotels like the Hyatt and the Palliser, and the Le Germain coming to Calgary, the city is in need of unique retail in the core.
The retail mix is something that Neill eagerly anticipates. “With international chains it’s almost like you go to any city and they’re starting to look the same,” she says. “It’s important to find different things, so when people visit or when they shop locally they are seeing and buying interesting clothes and supporting local artists.”
For shoppers and designers alike, Fashion Central is something to look forward to. Making possible once distant dreams for designers, and showcasing Calgary as not just another dot on a map with the same old chain stores — a place that gives local artists a chance to enter an arena ordinarily reserved for the big boys.