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Saying so long to the Zellers people

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Zellers has been a part of the retail landscape in Canada for over 80 years.

Walter P. Zellers started the chain of "stores for thrifty Canadians" in 1931, after taking over a dozen stores from an American retailer. Going full circle, U.S. retail giant Target is now taking over Zellers. It will soon join the ranks of Eaton’s, Woolco, K-Mart, and Consumers Distributing that have disappeared from Canada (although a few stores will remain open in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal).

Although the demise of Zellers doesn’t quite tug at the heartstrings the way Eaton’s did, it’s clear that many people still have fond memories of shopping there, as evidenced by the dozens of personal stories — some heartwarming, some funny, and some downright odd — that were posted on the Zellers Facebook page last year.

For years, I have been a regular customer of the Zellers at Grant Park. I usually finished my weekly shopping trip there, after picking up groceries at Safeway and then working my way to the other end of the mall. I usually got a cashier named Elaine, who was a little faster and more efficient than others.

In the past few months, the shelves became more bare and the discounts deeper as closure became imminent. The produce section closed, followed by the frozen food section. The Red Skillet restaurant poured its last coffee and turned off its grills. The store itself became progressively smaller as areas were vacated and roped off.

My last visit there was on the weekend before it closed its doors for good on Feb. 11. By then, even most of the store’s fixtures had been sold. I picked up a few items and lined up one final time with Elaine. I asked how her job search was going. She said she was still looking, as were many other employees. With a final look around the store, I shook Elaine’s hand and wished her well.

It feels like there’s a big void in my weekly shopping trips since the store’s closure. I make the same walk through the mall but now I’m faced with the walled-off entrance to what was once Zellers, and I’m left with no choice but to double back.

I’m sure I’ll shop at Target when it opens, as I did at Zellers and Walmart and the Woolco that preceded them all at Grant Park. For me it’s not the corporate entity that engenders loyalty to a store, it is the people who work there. They are the ones who put a human face on the organization and make it a pleasant place to shop.

Although I never really knew Elaine or the other staff at Zellers, they were familiar to me.

Perhaps I’ll see a few of them again at Target but, if not, I wish them the best of luck.

Wayne Chan is a community correspondent for Waverley Heights.

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