Goodbye Zellers (Hometown Blues #4)

This summer I had to say farewell to an institution that figured large in childhood memory: the department store Zellers. It is going the way of many of the Canadian department stores of my childhood. Back then, shopping meant going to The Bay, Sears, Woodwards or Eatons and kitting out everything from homewares to school clothes and supplies to new outfits for my parents. With two kids in town and limited time it made sense to shop in a department store: much easier than hauling around lots of different shops in a mall or busy street. And there was a toy department to end up in, as a reward for being well behaved (sometimes).

goodbye zellers

But Zellers was a bit different. For one thing, it was really near to where I lived, unlike the other stores which meant a trip downtown to Pacific Centre or to a plush suburban  super-mall like Richmond Centre. Zellers is a 5 minute drive or a 20 minute walk way. So it has always been the default place to stop and pick up the basic and unavoidable necessaries: an audio cable, some suntan lotion, a T shirt, floor cleaner, a deck of cards. This list comes from the receipt from my last ever visit. Zellers is closing down by the end of this year.

Zellers was the first place I ever bought something of my own to wear, for myself with my own money. I was in Grade 7 and not really into fashion (never have been and never will be). My black KISS t-shirt was to me the highest level fashion could go. However I can’t remember why I was in Zellers – probably buying bubblegum from the machine – when I saw The Jacket. It was a blazer, and it was the most gorgeous shade of violent, poison green. This is the shade:green

It went for the princely sum of $25.00, a lot of money to me. I put a five dollar down payment on it and then went home and got the rest of my money, and a $3 loan from my mother. It looked great with the KISS T-shirt. I wore it to school the next day.

Over the years Zellers has always been there and I am used to its brands, its service, the people who work there. Even long after I moved away I normally pop into Zellers on a regular basis when I go home for my visits. This summer I made a point of picking up a few pairs of the excellent Alfred Sung jeans to keep in storage, cos I have no idea when I’ll be able to get anything fitting as good as those again, for a price that does not leave me terrified to wear them.

Yes, Zellers is going the way of Eatons and Woodwards: it’s closing. Not because we don’t use it or want it, but because another company has bought it out and decided to replace it with their own stores. The other company is US retail giant Target. I haven’t been to Target and I have no idea what they offer. I don’t know if they are any good. I don’t know what they stock. I don’t know what their customer service or employee relations are like.

So far, their stance on unions does not appear to be good – I found this on YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NVqOxmb34yc

Now, I’m of the belief that the employee has a right to join or form a union, and the employer has no right to pressure them either way. so, hmmmm.

And the Huffington Post’s story on how the current Zellers employees are being treated as a result of the takeover does not sound promising:

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/08/22/target-canada-zellers-protest_n_1822223.html

The Toronto Star has documented the story http://www.thestar.com/business/article/1243434–target-doesn-t-want-anything-to-do-with-depressed-zellers

And here  It’s definitely worth following this story though, to monitor that “competitiveness” in the sector does not mean creating poverty and systemic unemployment.

I don’t want to come across as a knee-jerk Canadian nationalist, decrying the takeover of a Canadian store by an American one. In any case everything from Target will be, as with Zellers, made in China. Nor do I want to rail against change. And yet, Zellers going leaves a hole, alters the landscape of memory. We’ll see. Next summer Target will be there, and I’ll make my own decisions.

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