Sears didn’t mean much to me. It was just a shortcut to the rest of the mall, that is until it started to get really interesting, right before it went under. A huge banner advertised a new slogan “What the Sears?”. The store was constantly under renovation. There were suddenly shelves of reasonably priced housewares and a hopeful sign that read a café was coming soon. It was a desperate makeover to stave off bankruptcy — and it didn’t work. When Sears inevitably closed, I realized with a sinking feeling the Christmas tradition staple the Wish Book was now canceled.
It was one more blow to the seemingly bleak retail landscape.
While Sears was unfortunate, and my childhood will forever miss that giant book of toys and holiday possibilities, there’s one that really hurts— the one that got away.
The store I made a beeline for every time I went to the States was finally coming to Canada! I trekked to the Cloverdale Mall in Etobicoke on Target’s opening day, but immediately something felt off. The huge store felt empty and the stock placement seemed random. I gave it chance after chance, but it never got better. It was a big debacle, and Target eventually went back to the States defeated, leaving behind empty real-estate and its big concrete balls.
Target shot its shot and lost. It came on too strong and took on too much too fast. In its zeal to enter Canada, it had taken over all of the leases of the now defunct Zellers and quickly discovered not all the spaces were suitable to be transformed into Targets. I wondered, did Canada also play a part? Was it Stephen Harper’s fault? When he ditched the beloved long-form census did it leave the corporation without enough demographic information to make proper expansion decisions?
Whatever the case, Target it’s-not-you-its-me’d itself right out the door, and I found myself at its funeral. I wanted to say goodbye in my own way, and see if there was one last bargain to score from the sad clearance wreckage. Mourners and a handful of media were gathered. Bagpipes played. A sobbing girl laid flowers. A protestor held a sign that read, God hates fake funerals. It was…something. I guess I wasn’t the only one looking for closure.
And then, suddenly, I was hit with feelings of nostalgia for another departed store. The company that was cut to make room for Target —Zellers. I felt longing for the sales racks I had combed through with my mom, the café where I had coconut cream pie with my mother-in-law, my hometown store where the teddy bear mascot beckoned, “Come ride with me! All aboard the Zeddy wheel.” I was so psyched by Target’s arrival, I didn’t even think to miss Zellers.
Stores promise they will always be there. They promise to help everyone, “live better.” So, there’s something uniquely traumatizing about seeing a store being liquidated to the bare studs, with everything for sale, including the fixtures. The space stripped of its former meaning. And going through this process again and again, store after store, what kind of damage is that doing to the Canadian spirit?
Will all these closures scare off potential suitors?
It’s not like I’m totally without selection. There’s places where I can shop for groceries and get a pair of pajamas. Well-lit pharmacies where I can pick up prescriptions and get 40 per cent off on a bestselling paperback.
But there’s something missing. There’s not one place where I can go to for everything, a place I can wander around and get design ideas while I shop for food, and look at clothes I actually want to wear, with sizeable departments so if I’m in a hurry I don’t have to run all over the damn place.
Maybe it’s time to move beyond brick and mortar stores and embrace the future. Order everything online? But sometimes, I just don’t know what I want until I see it.
How can retail be dead anyway when the largest online retailer in the galaxy, Amazon, just opened up a store? And there was a line up around the block to get in?
I can’t help feeling like there’s something missing. Target could have been the one. But, for whatever reason, it wasn’t, and now there’s abandoned retail space that to this day sits empty and in need of revitalization. For a company that has the imagination, there’s a Target/Zellers sized hole to fill. There’s an opportunity for someone to mend the retail therapy gaps. If only someone will just step up and try.
Featured Image by Mike Mozart