St. Vital Centre to house new Zellers store Revival will include 25 new stores across Canada

The Hudson’s Bay Company will soon paint St. Vital Centre red — Zellers red.

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The Hudson’s Bay Company will soon paint St. Vital Centre red — Zellers red.

The national brand announced Zellers’ revival Wednesday, roughly a decade after most of the discount stores shuttered, with St. Vital Centre housing one of Canada’s 25 new Zellers stores.

“I’d be down to shop there again. Just for that little nostalgic value — why not?” said Sean Mencik, 23, while walking Wednesday through the south Winnipeg mall’s Hudson’s Bay Company store, which sported yellow clearance signs.

Zellers will open within current HBC sites, according to a news release.

A Hudson’s Bay Company spokesperson declined to comment, referring to the news release. A St. Vital Centre spokesperson also declined comment.

Years ago, Mencik and her mother traversed the old Zellers in Southdale, which was separate from the mall’s Hudson’s Bay Company, and contained a restaurant where Mencik ate her first corn dog.

“I was so excited for (that) corn dog,” Mencik reminisced.

The press release doesn’t mention restaurants opening in the nation’s new 8,000 to 10,000 square foot stores. It listed home decor, toys and apparel as part of the resurrected brand’s offerings.

Most Zellers sites closed in 2011 when Target entered Canada. The American company took over more than 200 locations at a cost of $1.83 billion. Another roughly 64 HBC-operated shops closed by mid-2013.

The retailer kept a handful open as liquidation outlets until 2020.

In recent years, HBC has been fighting the Moniz family from Quebec via the legal system. The family tried to use the Zellers name to open its own stores.

In a statement of claim filed in 2021, HBC accused the Moniz family of trademark infringement, depreciation of goodwill and passing off — the deceptive marketing or misrepresentation of goods.

During the pandemic, HBC has teased the Zellers name with a pop-up shop in the Burlington Centre in Ontario, hidden inside a Hudson’s Bay, and another in Anjou, Que.

“I can’t think of a better time for a discount retail chain to come back to the country,” said Sandeep Arora, a University of Manitoba marketing professor.

“It’s no secret that inflation has had a significant impact on the buying power of a consumer. The landscape that they’re coming back into is much, much more favourable.”

Manitoba’s inflation rate increased eight per cent year-over-year last December — the biggest increase across the country.

However, Arora questions the viability of a Zellers within a Hudson’s Bay Company. The department store sells brands such as BOSS and Michael Kors, which are higher-end labels.

“When you walk into a dollar store, everyone who’s in the dollar store… they’re all there to buy what’s in that store. Here you’re surrounded by other Hudson’s Bay customers,” Arora said

“You might not feel comfortable walking into (Zellers).”

The placement could be a lose-lose for both HBC and Zellers brands, he said.

Combining both under one roof makes sense to Janessa Giesbrecht, a former Zellers employee, who noted it would save the company money on operating costs.

“I’m curious to see if it’ll do any better than it did before,” Giesbrecht, 36, added.

She fondly recalled her time as a cashier and working in the garden centre at the Southdale location.

“I loved it — most of the time, of course,” she said. “Not everyone was nice.”

The closure of Zellers signalled a faltering Hudson’s Bay Company to Giesbrecht.

“It made me sad. Even though (HBC has) some complexities due to Canadian history and colonization, there was kind of an iconic nature,” she said.

The 352-year-old institution has taken other cost-saving measures recently. In 2019, it sold the historic department chain Lord & Taylor for $133 million.

In 2020, it shuttered its flagship location in downtown Winnipeg. The Southern Chiefs’ Organization has taken over, promising affordable housing units, assisted living and a daycare, among other things, in the former retail space.

HBC might harness nostalgia to propel Zellers forward, said Kelley Main, a University of Manitoba business professor.

“Nostalgia is a really deep sort of emotion,” she said, adding there is a whole new generation that doesn’t have any experience with the chain.

British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia will host Zellers locations. The brand is launching a website alongside its brick-and-mortar stores.

The Zellers department store was founded in 1931. HBC acquired it 47 years later, giving it the slogan “Where the lowest price is the law.”

HBC also owns Saks Fifth Avenue and Saks Off 5th.

– With files from The Canadian Press

Gabrielle Piché

Gabrielle Piché

Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.

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