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Checking Out: Bess Liscio

The newest member of VMSD’s editorial advisory board explains why she enjoys being at a firm that “works both sides of the lease line.”

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What were your earliest career aspirations?
As a 6-year-old entrepreneur, I remember imagining ‘small businesses’ and then creating them out of whatever was around the house. First came a sidewalk fruit stand made out of cardboard boxes, selling fruit my mom just purchased from the market. The next weekend was a hot dog stand, where I convinced my grandmother to be the cook while I tended to the customers in the stand I just created. The dry-cleaning business surprisingly didn’t work out … wonder why! Now that I look back on it, I was creating pop-up retail!

When and why did you focus on retail design?
I didn’t really. I think the choices I made along the way is how that happened. Focusing on art and art history in high school, I then attended Humber College and got a degree in visual merchandising. The curriculum was unique as it included small business courses, English with public speaking and visual merchandising philosophy. It was a wonderful fusion of art, science and business.

You first job out of college was at Eaton’s (Toronto), where you worked at one of its stores before moving to headquarters. What did you take away from those experiences?
I first worked in the display department at the Eaton’s at Yorkdale Mall. In those five years, I was a sponge and learned so much about how to merchandise everything from furs to furniture and lingerie to lamps. I quickly came to understand the meaning of teamwork, the power of visual merchandising and how it contributed to the success of store sales. My boss became my mentor. I eventually moved to the head office and became corporate visual presentation director, and with a strategic team, managed all 110 stores from coast-to-coast in Canada. The past 18-plus years taught me how to creatively storytell and visually build in-store experiences with multiple vendors and brands while keeping the Eaton brand authentic.

GH+A operates in three main markets: shopping center design, retail interiors and food spaces. Do you work in all of those?
I’m focusing on growing all strategic retail initiatives from cannabis to clothing, permanent to pop-up spaces. GH+A has more than three decades of experience built on successful relationships with clients, consultants and major developers. Our reputation and diverse portfolio have opened doors to many opportunities on ‘both sides of the lease line.’

A Few of Her Favorite Things:

What’s your idea of a perfect Sunday afternoon?
Toronto is filled with so many different ethnic neighborhoods with amazing restaurants and shops. Almost every Sunday, I would pick a new spot I have never been and walk the neighborhood, have brunch and wander the one-of-a-kind boutiques. Be a local.

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Your secret talent?
I’m a master suitcase packer! Secret tricks to packing more, no wrinkles … always carry-on! Can’t wait to travel again.

Are you a cat person, dog lover – or neither?
Sorry cat people, but dogs for sure. I had an 11-year-old Rhodesian Ridgeback when I lived in Columbus. RIP Moo Moo; miss him so much.

Morning person/night-owl?
24/7/365 all-day high energy. Drives my friends and family crazy.

Favorite beverage?
Aperol Spritz (at the moment).

Favorite food?
A fabulous charcuterie board.

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