Jewelry store bolsters Government Street renaissance

Lugaro Jewellers had a grand opening Tuesday night at its new location at Government and Fort streets.

Not long ago, a new store, with plenty of glitter and glamour, would have stood out along what was for a time a very quiet strip of Government.

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On Tuesday, that grand opening simply suited its location.

Government Street — which just two years ago was riddled with storefront vacancies and had little in the way of curb appeal and foot traffic — has been rejuvenated.

There are now just two vacancies along the main retail zone between Humboldt and Johnson streets. Two years ago, that number was in the double-digits.

It’s a different place, said developer Stan Sipos, who is about to start demolition work on his $40-million development at Government and Wharf streets.

“The market in the core is really feeling like it is getting revitalized. With all the in-migration to the downtown core and job creation in the core, you are seeing a lot less vacant store fronts,” he said. “There is tremendous vitality starting to shine again in the core.”

At one point, there were hopes that Sipos’s mixed-use development — 80 units of residential above 14,000 square feet of commercial space overlooking the Inner Harbour — would be the catalyst for Government Street’s revival.

But the street beat him to it.

Sipos expects to start demolition in early 2017 of the Canada Customs building at 816 Government and completely gut and renovate the adjoining heritage building that faces Wharf Street.

But already, Government Street has seen new brands such as Chocolats Favoris and Black Goat Cashmere move in, bringing new energy to the area.

Vancouver-based Lugaro is just the latest.

“It is thrilling to see Lugaro open their shop on Government. I was really excited when the brown paper went up on the windows and it was clear it would be happening,” Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said. “It’s a significant addition to the street and a real vote of confidence in the future of downtown, and the future of Government Street in particular.”

Helps suggested the fact a jeweller has left a shopping mall — Mayfair — for a boutique outlet on Government is a huge shot of confidence for the core.

Lugaro co-owner Steve Agopian said the decision to buy a downtown building and renovate was about serving two markets on the company’s terms.

“We wanted to be outside of the mall to serve both our Victoria clientele and at the same time take advantage of the tourist business that is a factor in Victoria,” he said, adding that the business has had a Victoria presence for 22 years.

Because they carry higher-end brands such as Rolex, the store requires the items to be presented to the customer in a special way.

“We decided we wanted to do it under our own roof,” Agopian said, adding that Lugaro’s Government Street location features a Rolex store-within-a-store that is designed to highlight the timepieces.

The company, which designs and manufactures many of its own products using Canadian components, bought the building in 2014 and spent more than a year and seven figures to completely renovate the space. The store opened quietly in July.

“It’s been a great addition to downtown,” said Bay Centre general manager Darlene Hollstein. The new brands and faces in retail on the corridor cater to a new demographic that lives and works downtown, she said.

“They are good additions for those who live, work and play here. We’re seeing some good change in the right direction.”

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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