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  1. MONTREAL - It’s the talk of downtown: big changes are said to be coming to Ogilvy’s and Holt Renfrew. The buzz is that Holt’s will close in its current location, move into Ogilvy’s, and the Art Deco Holt building will become condos. Sales staff in the area worry about their jobs, while merchants wonder what effect the loss of a retail anchor on Sherbrooke St. W. would have on the foot traffic for boutiques on Crescent and de la Montagne Sts. The rumours come after Selfridges Group Ltd., owners of Holt Renfrew, acquired Ogilvy’s this summer. Terms for the sale, which closed on Sept. 8, were not disclosed. The sale came just a year after a consortium of Quebec real estate investors bought the historic department store. “As of now, it’s business as usual for both,’’ said Jean-Sébastien Lamoureux, a spokesman for SGL, part of the billionaire Weston family’s empire. The Toronto family also owns Selfridges department store in the United Kingdom, stores in Ireland and the Netherlands, and controls Canada’s Loblaw grocery chain. An Ogilvy’s branch at Quartier Dix30 had been set to open next August. SGL still plans to open a store in Phase 3 of the South Shore mall, but no date for the opening has been set, said Lamoureux of National Public Relations. “Rumour is rumour,’’ said Ogilvy president Michel Théroux. “There’s no way to kill a rumour.” “The owners are studying a lot of scenarios,’’ Théroux said, emphasizing he has no information on any changes. He, too, tells employees it’s business as usual. A retail analyst, as well as executives speaking off the record, say that merging Holt Renfrew and Ogilvy’s stores is logical. The big question, said one source, is the future of Ogilvy’s as a heritage brand. “They’re not looking to walk away from it as brand, but it won’t be the name on the door,’’ the source said, adding that Ogilvy’s has great recognition and appeals to many people who don’t shop at Holt’s. “Heritage and tradition is worth something, but at the end of the day – I don’t know. We’re all waiting.” Holt’s has about 64,000 square feet of selling space compared with Ogilvy’s 120,000 square feet. About 80 per cent of Ogilvy’s is leased to boutiques, including Louis Vuitton, Ports, Les Chaussures Ogilvy (actually run by Jean-Paul Fortin shoes) and the large Design Louis George boutique on the fourth floor. Holt’s, with 11 stores across Canada, leases space to Hermès, Chanel, Links, Max Mara and the fur boutique. The future of many of those leased boutiques is at risk, a source said, wondering how the brands from the two stores will be merged. The source said Holt Renfrew has to face up to competition across Canada and in Montreal, with U.S. chains moving in and with the online shopping onslaught . “It’s time for a wow store in Montreal,’’ the source said. “I don’t know where the bagpipes will be.” Whatever is in store is years away, observers say. Asked whether Montreal can afford two high-end department stores, consumer analyst Neil Linsdell said there is definitely enough money here. “But when you get on that very high end, you’re not competing with everyone else in Montreal, because you probably have more travelled customers,’’ said Linsdell, of investment bank Versant Partners. “To a certain extent, you’re probably competing with London, New York.” In every sector, the selection is greater in the U.S., he added. “You can be very successful at either end of the market, high end or low end. Everybody is being squeezed in the middle,’’ Linsdell said. “High end is probably a better place to be.’’ To Théroux, Montreal has had room for the two high-end stores in the past, so he sees no reason that should not be in the case in the future. That said, Montreal is a small market and not a shopping destination for well-heeled tourists. “It’s not Toronto, it’s not New York. So you have to be a little bit different – offer things that people enjoy and like. We have to be humble,’’ he said. “Let’s address quality for the Montreal market.’’ He said the Louis Vuitton boutique at Ogilvy’s does very well; its accessories are affordable for many people. “But can we have a Prada boutique (with a) full assortment, etc., etc.? I’m not sure.” Real estate agent Liza Kaufman, who sells the adjacent Ritz condos, had heard the rumours, too. She said she thinks nobody really knows the plan. “There is going to be a Holt Renfrew,’’ she said. “Holt’s is a national brand. Ogilvy’s is only local. I do love Holt Renfrew. I love the location, obviously. Having said that, the store is small.’’ She and her clients travel and do a lot of their shopping elsewhere, she said, for the greater selection and the better prices. Kaufman said she thinks it’s business as usual for five years. As for possible changes to the real estate on Sherbrooke St. W., she suggested storefronts could remain on Sherbrooke St. W. even if the building becomes condos. “I would hope that other retailers take over that space if Holt’s does move,’’ Kaufman said. Linsdell noted that the demographics of an aging population favour the construction of more condos in the downtown area. And on the city council side: “There seems to be a war on the commuter.” Linsdell does not predict a major backlash from Montrealers by a move to Ogilvy’s by Holt Renfrew. It could be considered just a real estate play, he said, with Holt’s moving to the much roomier Ogilvy quarters and not losing that much in the availability of product.“There’s the immediate payoff on the real estate, selling it to a condo developer,’’ he said. Last week, the Quartier du Musée association staged a fashion show featuring designers in the area. Marie Rouzaud, coordinator of the group, said the goal is to keep designers and artisans – be it fashion or chocolate – and small businesses in the area. “We suffered because of the construction. Everywhere downtown is difficult, because parking is expensive, taxes are high,’’ Rouzaud said. “It’s hard to survive. Boutiques close, and big chains come in. Downtown must keep its authenticity,’’ she said. “If Holt Renfrew moves, it will be sad for the quartier.’’ The arrival of Montreal’s first Anthropologie, a U.S. chain store with a devoted following, and Tiffany’s jewellers is seen as good news in the short term. Both are expected to open early next year, Anthropologie next to Holt’s on de la Montagne, Tiffany’s in the new Ritz condo project on Sherbrooke. Designer Michel Desjardins, who opened a bright atelier-boutique on Crescent St. two years ago, said he likes the shopping corridor created by Holt’s and Ogilvy’s from Sherbrooke to Ste. Catherine St. “The circuit would be broken,’’ he said, if Holt’s were to wind up on Ste. Catherine, which he characterizes as less luxe than Sherbrooke. For Sally Yep, a boutique owner on de la Montagne, it’s difficult to imagine the merging of the two stores. “You always think of them as being separate fashion visions. I have the impression that Holt’s is going to stay strong,’’ she said. “Holt is the dominant brand. Ogilvy has more tradition.” Another merchant, not wishing to be named, also spoke of the different characters of the two stores. “It would be terrible without a free-standing Holt Renfrew and Ogilvy,’’ she said. “There is a clientele that is loyal to these stores.’’ http://www.montrealgazette.com/business/changes+predicted+Ogilvy+Holt+Renfrew/5756714/story.html