When the team behind The Helm started talking about expanding to a bigger space, there was no question about where it should be.
"Our entire DNA is based in the downtown core of the city," said owner Chad Helm. "We love the downtown core. We want to see it prosper, not die. It was a conscious choice that we made to stay and grow."
The upscale men's clothing company's new flagship store is just a block east of its former home on 104 Street, where it spent a decade. The new spot features an impressive multilevel layout at the base of Encore Tower, a luxury highrise that Helm says offers more than just additional space for its dress shirts and casual wear.
"Not only bigger, but more interesting spaces, spanning three different floors and allowing us three different opportunities to provide unique concepts to our client," Helm said.
Plans for the new store started in April 2020, "right in the heart of the mess that was going on," Helm remarked. Helm was confident the timing was right to double down on downtown, despite the retail lull caused by the pandemic, and the departure of clothing giants Holt Renfrew and Hudson's Bay,
"We've seen a lot, and we've seen the ups and downs of downtown and being a small business," Helm explained. "And ultimately, the city has been pretty good to us. Over the past 10 years, we've been growing, and despite some hiccups with the pandemic and whatnot, we were confident in the demand for what we have to offer in the city."
The expansion has come with minor growing pains, Helm admitted. The extra square footage required more inventory and staff to cover the floor, and questions arose over how to best make use of the layout. As word of the store's plans spread, Helm said, many of the people needed for the transition were drawn in.
"There was quite a bit of excitement around the opening of this space. To be quite honest, in the last 25 years across the country, there's only been a handful of independent retail stores at this scale open. And once news broke that it was happening here in our city, we had quite a few great people come to us over the past four or five months, looking to come and join the team, so it wasn't overly difficult staffing up."
There are always issues that come with being downtown, whether it be fluctuations in population, the price of real estate, or the perception that parking is scarce, in addition to ongoing concerns about social disorder and how best to address it. Whatever the problem of the day people may want to talk about, Helm said, there is an appeal to the core that has kept him enamoured with the area.
"The truth is, they come to see us because downtown also offers a great lifestyle: walkable, generally great restaurants, and historically great retailers. And our objective is to continue that trend."
Correction: This story has been updated to describe Chad Helm as the owner of The Helm.