Zellers Outlasts Target Canada: Does It Deserve A Comeback?

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Target’s last remaining Canadian stores closed on Sunday, marked by a funeral and some premature store closures that allowed the chain to disappoint its Canadian customers one last time.

But as Canadians mull over all the retail chains that have disappeared (bye bye, Future Shop, Sony Store, Mexx and so many more) it may be more heartening to look over what has survived.

And one unexpected survivor is Zellers. Yes, the long-iconic Canadian chain — the majority of whose stores were turned into Targets — lives on even as Target leaves no trace.

Granted, the chain is a shadow of its former self, down to just two locations — one in the Ottawa suburb of Bells Corners, and one in Toronto’s Kipling Queensway Mall. That’s down from some 350 locations at its peak in the 1990s (nearly three times as many as Target ever had in Canada).

And the two remaining Zellers locations are essentially discount outlets for The Bay and Home Outfitters, two other brands owned by Hudson’s Bay Co.

Yet the symbolism of the Canadian chain’s survival has spurred some people to call on HBC to “bring back Zellers,” now that Target’s departure has left a hole in Canada’s retail landscape.

But despite the Twitter chatter, HBC doesn’t sound enthusiastic about bringing back Zellers.

“There are no plans to open additional Zellers stores,” an HBC spokesperson said in a brief email.

That’s understandable. As a largely “failed” retailer, Zellers has a public image problem that would be hard to overcome among those consumers who aren’t calling for its return.

In fact, when Target was setting up, internal documents show it was doing everything it could not to be associated with the "depressed" Zellers stores that preceded it. (Who would have thought they would end up tarnishing their own brand so much more?)

But with Target gone and a wave of store closures and mergers reducing retail competition in Canada, it’s little wonder some consumers feel they were better off in the Zellers era. It’s the Canadian consumer’s ultimate case of “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”

But if the organizer of the Target funeral in Toronto this past weekend is on to anything, Zellers — like Target and Future Shop — just had too much red signage for Canadians.

A blue Zellers, anyone?

Should HBC bring back Zellers? Would you shop there? Let us know in the comments below.

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