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Cisco’s $100-million investment in Toronto is all Rob Ford’s doing, says Rob Ford

(Image: Ford: Christopher Drost)

(Image: Ford: Christopher Drost)

Regular guy and budding Los Angeles socialite Rob Ford appeared at city hall on Wednesday afternoon to make his weekly complaint to the media. The difference this time: his complaint wasn’t about the media, rather it was about a major technology firm’s decision to invest $100 million in Toronto over the course of the next decade.

Why would Rob Ford—the self-professed relentless advocate for business—be quibbling with Cisco Systems’ announcement that it will be locating one of its four new global innovation hubs in Toronto’s South Core? Because nobody bothered to thank him, of course.

“I’m the one that made the environment for these businesses to come here. My administration’s done it,” the mayor told reporters. “We have 150 cranes in the sky. We have the lowest tax rate, that was all my hard work.” Ford was responding to news that deputy mayor Norm Kelly, who has been the functional head of Toronto’s municipal government since Ford was stripped of most of his powers in November, had been invited to Cisco’s announcement on Wednesday in the mayor’s stead.

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UPDATED: federal Conservatives quash proposal to lower ATM fees to 50 cents

(Image: redspotted)

(Image: redspotted)

Anyone who has wasted precious minutes scouring downtown streets for a friendly, no-added-charge cash dispenser knows the pain of ATM withdrawal fees. On Monday, the NDP tried to resuscitate the issue of bank-machine price gouging, which hasn’t been discussed much on Parliament Hill since the late Jack Layton tried to drum up support for a federally mandated curb on the surcharges in 2008. The new proposal, advanced yesterday by NDP consumer affairs critic Glenn Thibeault, calls for ATM withdrawal fees to be capped at 50 cents per transaction.

A vote on Thibeault’s motion, which urges the feds to build fee limits into their 2014 budget, is scheduled for later this afternoon. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: The vote on Thibeault’s motions happened on Tuesday afternoon, and was predictably defeated 146-130, with the majority Tories voting against the bill. Looks like this issue is moving off the legislative agenda and into the NDP’s election platform.

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Business

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BlackBerry is trying to prevent Ryan Seacrest from selling an iPhone accessory

(Image: Courtesy of Typo Products)

(Image: Courtesy of Typo Products)

BlackBerry has spent much of the past year trying desperately to make its phones seem more like iPhones, so one can only imagine how troubling it must be to executives at the company’s Waterloo headquarters that a start-up co-founded by Ryan Seacrest has managed to solve the problem by taking the opposite approach: instead of turning BlackBerries into iPhones, Typo Products LLC is selling a special snap-on case that endows an iPhone with a BlackBerry-style QWERTY keyboard.

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How weather-driven flight delays feed Pearson Airport’s boredom economy

Stranded passengers aren't entirely bad for business at Pearson. (Image: Richard Hsu)

Stranded passengers aren’t entirely bad for business at Pearson. (Image: Richard Hsu)

There are few things more boring than waiting at an airport, the sterile doctor’s office of the travel industry. Considering their supreme blandness, it’s easy to forget that airports are big business. When Toronto’s Pearson Airport grounded hundreds of flights for several hours because of January 7’s polar-vortex-induced cold, there was a lot of concern, not just because of the thousands of stranded passengers, but also because Pearson is supposed to be a reliable economic machine. The eight-hour disruption has been under so much media scrutiny that it’s now the subject of an internal probe.

Pearson’s $11.5 billion GDP is double that of Prince Edward Island’s. In 2013, 36 million passengers went through its gates, and many of them shopped in the airport’s hundreds of stores, restaurants and art galleries. In all, Pearson directly or indirectly employs 114,000 people. (There are even dinosaur fossils on display in terminal one, so you know it has everything.) It, like other air-travel hubs around the world, is a micro-economy.

But what happens to that economy when people are stuck in the airport?

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Business

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How the weakening loonie is about to make life more expensive

(Image: bgilliard)

(Image: bgilliard)

When this sentence was written, the value of the Canadian dollar was hovering around 92 cents U.S. That’s the lowest the loonie has sunk since the first year of the financial crisis. For people who happen to have a lot of U.S. dollars on hand, this is a godsend. (Canadian businesses that export to the U.S. are in for a particularly good time.) For everyone else, the prognosis isn’t as great. Here’s a quick tour of some of the probable consequences.

1. Uncertainty will reign

The general consensus among experts is the loonie’s decline will continue, at least for a little while, but nobody is sure where rock bottom lies. The price change is being driven by so many different factors—a stronger U.S. economy, a not-quite-as-strong market for Canadian resources—that all we really have to go on are the best guesses of investment bankers. As of November, Goldman Sachs was thinking we’d sink as low as 88 cents. At this rate, the loonie could be there before long.

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WestJet makes a passive-agressive non-bid bid for access to the island airport

The island airport, from above. (Image: sean hill)

The island airport, from above. (Image: sean hill)

The island airport makes some people very, very angry, but for WestJet CEO Gregg Saretsky, the feeling is probably more like mild despair, perhaps mixed with envy and a soupçon of frustration with Porter and Air Canada—the airlines that currently have exclusive dibs on the tiny but oh-so-convenient transportation hub.

WestJet has been angling for slots at the island airport for quite some time, but, with Porter’s jet proposal about to come to a vote at city hall, even the merest whisper about Saretsky’s situation is enough for the media to pile on, as they did yesterday when he told the Globe: “We would like to have the opportunity to fly jets ourselves from that airport.”

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The Goods

Stores

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POLL: Are you underwhelmed by Target Canada?

target-smallThe American retail giant’s dismal third-quarter earnings are yet more evidence that its ballyhooed Canadian expansion missed the, er, target, with local shoppers. Target brass and retail experts have identified a host of problems: it had trouble finding a balance between empty shelves and excess stock; the initial surge of customers hasn’t returned to stock up on household basics; and the Canadian market offers stronger competition than expected. The common perception that the discounter is more expensive than its chief rival Walmart—as well as Target’s own American stores—isn’t helping much either.

Did Target fall short of your expectations?

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World’s Biggest Bookstore has been sold to the developer behind the Four Seasons Hotel

worlds-biggest-bookstore

(Image: Steve Harris)

First it was Sam the Record Man. Then Honest Eds. Now, yet another iconic local retailer is packing it in. Come February, the World’s Biggest Bookstore will be ceding its prime site near Yonge-Dundas Square to a property developer. Indigo Books and Music, which owns the 64,000-square-foot store, says it’s closing the store because the rent, as expected, was rising from the $1.5 million a year the company had been paying. The company purchasing the not-quite-accurately-named store (New York has a Barnes and Noble nearly twice the size) is Lifetime Developments, a residential and commercial developer responsible for the Liberty Market Lofts, WaterParkCity and the Four Seasons. Vice-president Brian Brown said the firm doesn’t “have any finalized plans or intention” for the site—but we’re willing to bet another bargain bookstore is not one of the options. [Toronto Star]

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Talk of mass layoffs at Blackberry completely upstage the company’s massive new phone

(Images: smart phone courtesy of BlackBerry; pink slip, pink slip Rick)

We knew things were really bad at BlackBerry. Now we know they’re really, really bad. Rumours are swirling that the faltering tech giant will cull up to 40 per cent of its workforce by Christmas, which would bring its employee count below 8,000. (To compare, two years ago, the company had more than 17,000 people.) BlackBerry wouldn’t comment on the story, but sources say the cuts will come in waves, affect all departments and hit BlackBerry’s Waterloo headquarters the hardest. The extra twist of the knife: news of the layoffs broke the same day that the company unveiled the BlackBerry Z30. It has the largest screen and longest battery life of any BlackBerry to date—not that anyone noticed. [Wall Street Journal]

The Goods

Stores

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HBC buys Saks Fifth Avenue with plans to bring the upscale chain to Canada

After weeks of negotiations and rumours of competing bids, Hudson’s Bay Company has finalized a $2.9-billion deal to buy Saks Fifth Avenue and its discount offshoot Saks Off Fifth. HBC CEO Richard Baker is reportedly itching to bring the the two stores to Canada: either by incorporating the Saks banner into select Hudson’s Bay locations or by converting entire Hudson’s Bay stores into Saks stores. Either way, HBC better move quickly if it wants to strike ahead of Nordstrom’s arrival next year. [Globe and Mail]

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Loblaw is buying Shoppers Drug Mart for $12.4 billion

(Image: Ontario Chamber of Commerce)

Loblaw Companies announced this morning that it’s buying Shoppers Drug Mart, a high-stakes move that should help it compete with the incoming onslaught of new Whole Foods and Target stores. The deal, which Loblaw scion Galen G. Weston and Shoppers chairman Holger Kluge hammered out in a van on a country road late last week, will see Canada’s largest grocery chain pay $12.4 billion in cash and stock for Canada’s biggest drugstore chain, provided it’s approved by shareholders and the Competition Bureau. By taking over Shoppers’ 1,200 drug stores, Loblaw should net greater negotiation clout with suppliers, an estimated $300 million a year in economies of scale and a significant share of Canada’s pharmacy business. The mega-corp will also obtain hundreds of small-format urban spaces, which it’ll need if its new health-focused pharma-grocery store concept catches on. Loblaws says no stores will close asa result of the merger, and—for all the Life Brand diehards out there—Shoppers’ in-house label isn’t going anywhere.

The Goods

Stores

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Hudson’s Bay Company is looking at buying Saks Fifth Avenue

In three months, HBC has promoted luxury guru Bonnie Brooks, opened Canada’s largest women’s shoe store, hinted it wants to partner with Uniqlo and announced a Toronto Kleinfeld Bridal boutique. Now, the company is reportedly looking to purchase Saks Inc., which owns 40-odd Saks Fifth Avenue stores across the U.S. We like the potential benefits for both HBC and Canadian shoppers: Saks’ relationships with luxury designers could bring Hudson’s Bay more high-end brands and converting some existing Bay locations into Saks stores would make better use of HBC’s real estate. The acquisition would also net prime American retail locations for HBC’s Lord and Taylor banner. Still, it’s probably a little too early to get excited. Several U.S. private equity groups are rumoured to be interested in Saks and similar talks between HBC CEO Richard Baker and Bloomingdales never ended up yielding a deal. [Women’s Wear Daily]

The Goods

Stores

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Bonnie Brooks ends her five-year reign as HBC president

(Image: Bonnie Brooks)

Bonnie Brooks, the luxury retail whiz who led Hudson’s Bay’s revamp from dowdy department store to high-flying retailer, is stepping back from day-to-day leadership with a new job as vice-chairman. After becoming president in 2008, Brooks dropped hundreds of underperforming lines, like Liz Claiborne and Bill Blass, and brought in buzzier brands, like Top Shop and Coach, along with a high-end boutique that regularly draws socialites and celebrities. CEO Richard Baker says the promotion will allow Brooks to work on similar big-picture strategies for HBC’s other brands, which include 69 Home Outfitters stores and 48 Lord and Taylor department stores in the U.S. HBC chief merchant Liz Rodbell will take over as the new president. Brooks, however, will remain the public face (and voice, presumably) of the company. [Globe and Mail]

The Informer

Business

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Shoppers Drug Mart writes an awesome, dystopic response to a customer email

(Image: chapstickaddict)

Shoppers Drug Mart showed this week that, like Samsung Canada and Morton’s Steakhouse, it knows how to have some fun with its customers. When a Shoppers mailer addressed to a stranger arrived at Andrew Gardner’s Toronto house, he sent a tongue-in-cheek email to give the company a heads up.

I can draw one of two conclusions from this: 1) that Matthew is a previous resident of this address, and has not updated his address information with your system for over 3 years (the approximate time that I’ve lived here), in which case, please contact him about his up-to-date address information, and send no further mail to this address.

Or 2), and I may be going out on a limb here, Matthew is a future resident of this address, and seemingly against the laws of causation, your computer system has this information, and prematurely mailed an advertisement to him before he’s actually lived here.

In lieu of a boilerplate, “we apologize for any inconvience” reply, Shoppers wrote a return missive from the future with perfect deadpan tone (it even earned a stamp of approval from Toronto sci-fi author Cory Doctorow).

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The Goods

Stores

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A massive new outlet mall west of Toronto will have the first ever Hudson’s Bay outlet store

Construction is well underway (Image: Premium Outlets)

Real estate giants Simon Property Group and Calloway Real Estate Investment Trust are opening a huge outlet mall on August 1 in Halton Hills, about an hour’s drive from downtown. Along with the first Hudson’s Bay outlet store, Toronto Premium Outlets will also have the first Canadian discount locations of several big-name brands, including Kate Spade New York, DKNY and Restoration Hardware.  In all, the mall will have about 85 stores, with plans for a second phase of construction when some of the luxury brands just now arriving in Canada are ready to open discount offshoots. Between Halton Hills and Tanger Factory Outlets’s plans to expand their Cookstown outlet centre, Torontonians could soon see the end of a long-standing tradition of cross-border shopping. Below, the full list of stores.

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