TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadian department store operator Hudson’s Bay Co (HBC.TO) has not yet applied for a Montreal city permit to transform a historic downtown property into a Saks Fifth Avenue store, a government official said on Wednesday, raising prospects the luxury chain could miss its targeted fall 2018 launch.
Hudson’s Bay, which operates its namesake chain in Canada, bought Saks in 2013 for $2.4 billion. It also owns Lord & Taylor in the United States, leading German department store chain Kaufhof, and has plans to open the first international Hudson’s Bay stores in the Netherlands.
The retailer, which reports first quarter results on Thursday, announced plans last September for the largest Saks store in Canada, a 200,000 square-foot (18,580 sq meter) flagship in Montreal. At the time, the company said the building, which already houses a Hudson’s Bay store, would undergo an “extensive” multimillion-dollar renovation.
With North American department stores reporting dismal sales, shuttering outlets, and cutting costs, squeezed by online competitors like Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O), several retail industry consultants said a re-evaluation or delay of the project would come as no surprise.
City spokeswoman Anik de Repentigny told Reuters Montreal has not received a permit application for the property, which includes refacing a portion of the exterior, according to an artist’s rendering released last September.
In a statement, Hudson’s Bay spokeswoman Tiffany Bourre reiterated the company’s intention to bring Saks Fifth Avenue to Montreal, but declined to comment on specifics including whether the project was delayed, or when it will apply for a permit.
Any potential delay could mean missing the crucial holiday shopping season, industry consultants said.
“The importance of being open for the holiday period cannot be underestimated,” said Doug Stephens, founder of Retail Prophet said.
“If we’re thinking fall of 2018, we’re 15 months out ... Certainly we would expect delays - it would be a question of how long,” said Sally Seston, a principal at Retail Category Consultants, adding that department stores across the spectrum are struggling.
Saks has two full-line stores in Canada, both in Toronto, and a Calgary location set to open in January 2018.
One retail consultant familiar with Hudson’s Bay stores but not involved with the Montreal project, said the lack of a permit application was a “tell-tale” sign.
“If you look at the physical premise, I can’t imagine they would meet their deadline,” said the consultant who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid poisoning relations with the company.
It took some 19 months, from the time when permits were issued, before the 170,000 square foot Saks store in downtown Toronto opened in February 2016, behind its fall 2015 schedule.
Montreal spokeswoman de Repentigny said factors including project complexity would determine how long it takes to issue a permit, noting that more than 90 percent of permits for the downtown borough were issued in under 120 days last year.
Hudson’s Bay spokeswoman Bourre said the company was still working through the details.
Several industry consultants also question why the high-end retailer would open its largest store in Montreal, a market known for fashion, but smaller and less affluent than Toronto.
Hudson’s Bay does not break down sales by country, but the Saks luxury chain, which had a total of 41 locations as of Jan. 28, reported an overall drop in same-store sales in four of the last five quarters, including a 4.8 percent fall in the first quarter of 2017.
“There is this concern they really aren’t doing the numbers that they had thought they were going to do,” said Maureen Atkinson, senior partner with global retail advisor, J.C. Williams Group, of the Toronto locations.
Reporting by Solarina Ho in Toronto; Additional reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal; Editing by Tom Brown