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Weston adds Ogilvy to upscale department store holdings

A file photo exterior shot of Ogilvy Store in Montreal, July 7, 2010.

Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail/Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

After only one year in upscale fashion retailing, the Quebec owners of the landmark Ogilvy department store in downtown Montreal are selling the property to Selfridges Group Ltd., the Weston family-owned holding company.

Toronto-based SGL already owns a portfolio of high-end store chains, including Holt Renfrew & Co. Ltd. in Canada, Selfridges in Britain, Brown Thomas in Ireland and de Bijenkorf in the Netherlands.

Ogilvy - whose roots reach back to 1866 - fits perfectly with SGL's strategy of operating a select group of top-end stores in geographically diversified regions, said SGL chief financial officer Paul Gallagher.

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"We've got a strong history of investment and development in prestigious, iconic retail stores across the globe," he said in an interview Friday after the announcement of the deal, whose financial details were not disclosed.

The family of billionaire Galen Weston acquired the prestigious Selfridges department store chain - founded in 1909 - eight years ago. It already owned the Holt Renfrew chain as well as Brown Thomas.

Ogilvy was founded by Scottish-born James Angus Ogilvy and established itself over the years as a Montreal institution, notable for the daily lunchtime concert by a bagpiper winding his way through the aisles, a tradition that continues to this day.

The Quebec investment group selling Ogilvy is made up of the Fonds immobilier de solidarité FTQ, shopping-centre developer Devimco Inc., Champlain Financial Corp. and BB Real Estate Investment Trust, owned by the Bombardier-Beaudoin family.

Josée Lagacé, a spokeswoman for the Fonds, said it was never the intention to hang onto Ogilvy for a prolonged period of time.

The fund - owned by one of Quebec's major trade unions - got involved because of the potential for developing a 14,000-square-foot parcel of land next door to Ogilvy, she said.

The option for the investment group to buy the adjacent land was packaged with their original purchase of Ogilvy and is still available should they decide to build on it. Among the development options being studied for the patch of prime downtown real estate are plans for a 22-storey mixed-used building, Ms. Lagacé said.

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Maureen Atkinson, a retailing consultant with the J.C. Williams Group in Toronto, said it makes perfect sense for the Ogilvy store to go to an owner with a solid track record in the volatile world of high-end retailing.

"You would really want [SGL]as an owner. We use them as an example of department stores that have reinvented themselves. They're very exciting stores," she said.

The deal is expected to close in the fall and existing management overseeing day-to-day operations at Ogilvy will stay on, SGL said in a news release.

Mr. Gallagher said no major changes are planned to Ogilvy, which is just down the street from SGL's Holt Renfrew store on a stylish stretch of Sherbrooke Street.

"These are stand-alone operations with local management who understand the local culture and local purchasing tastes," he said.

Ogilvy uses a store-within-a-store retail model, with about three-quarters of its 135,000 square feet of space leased out to between 30 and 40 specialty boutiques.

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Mr. Gallagher said SGL anticipates it will go ahead with the previous owners' plans to open a second Ogilvy outlet, in the Quartier Dix30 shopping mall in Brossard, on Montreal's south shore.

The chairman of SGL is Galen Weston, whose family's other assets include Weston Foods and Loblaw Cos. Ltd.

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About the Author
Quebec Business Correspondent

Bertrand has been covering Quebec business and finance since 2000. Before joining The Globe and Mail in 2000, he was the Toronto-based national business correspondent for Southam News. He has a B.A. from McGill University and a Bachelor of Applied Arts from Ryerson. More

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