Downtown businesses add Uptown to their mix

Dale Olsen has been in the clothing business for more than 30 years and in that time has learned a thing or two about being either ahead of, or at least “on trend,” which may explain why his new store, the third ­Outlooks for Men on the Island, has opened at Uptown.

The new store opened on Good Friday at the Saanich outdoor shopping centre, and is the latest in a series of local retailers and service providers who have decided to make the move or expand to the centre.

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“I just came to terms with the fact that Victoria is a bigger town now and is growing constantly,” said Olsen from his new 4,000 square foot space. “There are people, who for whatever reason, don’t get downtown; this was an opportunity to put what I do in front of a different set of eyes.”

Uptown now has 32 local businesses amid its town-centre-styled outdoor mall, which features major anchor tenants, Walmart, Whole Foods and Best Buy.

Olsen’s move is the most recent addition, and it is testament to his fairly optimistic outlook that he would open and procure inventory for a new store in the midst of a pandemic.

“I’m convinced we will eventually get out of this,” he said, of a pandemic that has had a severe impact on retail operations and supply chains worldwide and limited the number of customers in the new store to 10 at any time.

For Olsen, the new store — his first location remains open at 534 Yates St. downtown and there is a second in Duncan — is a chance to take on the ­challenging times and create new customers.

“This is about recouping lost dollars,” he said, noting they will carry the same lines and offer the same high-end service and in-house tailoring they do at their other locations.

What it’s not about is indicting downtown, which has been hit hard during the pandemic.

Olsen said he still loves downtown and points out the area was thriving just before the pandemic hit last year. “It was really hitting its stride a year and a half ago,” he said. “For everybody who thinks downtown is in trouble, there’s another person moving into a condo. Eventually, downtown will be great again. Until we get people back in their offices I expect downtown will be tough for a little while.”

Tom Moore agrees.

The co-owner and chef of Crust Bakery also said he still loves downtown — Crust’s first location opened in 2013 at 730 Fort St. and remains a popular destination — but when the pandemic hit and they saw numbers dwindle they felt a need to take their food to another location and Uptown was definitely the “up and coming spot.”

Crust built a kiosk at Uptown last fall. “However, it doesn’t mean we have abandoned downtown by any means,” he said.

Moore said the sheer number of people living downtown in new condos has helped make up for the significant reduction in the number of people working in the core. “It’s still busy. There may be fewer cars and less people going into town but it’s not really affecting things.”

The attraction for Crust to Uptown was the volume of people, ease of parking, access and the way the centre does business. “They have been great, made it very much worth my while and have been nothing but fantastic,” Moore said. “We love it there, we absolutely love it.”

Moore said his business prides itself on doing things a certain way, striving for excellence their customers can count on and he found kindred spirits at Uptown. “They fit our business model, we like to do things properly, we don’t cut corners, and that was reflected at Uptown,” he said, adding it was obvious from the manicured gardens to their social media presence. “There’s a really good feel there and it fits our style beautifully.”

Ensuring a strong local presence at the centre has been a guiding principle of Uptown since it started, said Kristy Lowes, who has been with the centre since before it opened for business 10 years ago. “We always wanted to have a combination of national retailers, the premier big-box stores and then the independent and specifically local to Victoria retailers,” she said. “It provides an additional option when customers decide to shop Uptown — they are often surprised when they come that they can find a lot of their local independents when they come for groceries or other things.”

That local component will be an important part of the mix as Uptown adds a residential component in the next few years.

Moore said the pandemic, which forced Crust to shut down on Fort Street for a month last year, was a bit of a blessing in disguise as it allowed him and partner Crystal Moore to rejig the business plan and consider expansion to Uptown. “Businesses are really suffering locally and we are lucky to have an opportunity to get our product out there and get a bit more exposure,” he said. “A little hard work has paid off.”

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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