Summerside bids farewell to Zellers

Published on March 31, 2013
Staff at Zellers in the County Fair Mall made the most of the last day of business. Several presentations were made and many staff took the opportunity to have their uniforms signed by workmates. Car man Paul Saunders (left) received a Zellers jacket while Barb Pye, Vicki Marchbank and Linda Power received recognitions for 30 years service. Also shown are Kirsty Wright (right) and Cindy Palmer (front) who made sure she got as many signatures as she could.
Michael Nesbitt/Journal Pioneer

SUMMERSIDE — Zeddy, the Zellers mascot for over 30 years, has officially left County Fair Mall and the lowest price law will now be left for others to uphold.

Saturday saw the closure of the Summerside store, with remaining merchandise being sold for up to 95 per cent off regular prices.

Larry Canan, manager of the County Fair Mall Zellers, assessed his store as a solid performer over the years and applauded its involvement in the community.

Canan said staff morale was high as the last of their customers browsed what was left on much-reduced shelving in the near empty store.

“It’s an amazing staff. Anyone would be fortunate to get them as employees.”

Zellers first opened as a thrift retailer in the 1930s, going through a series of acquisitions and mergers before becoming part of the Hudson's Bay Company in the 1970s. It has operated on P.E.I. since, taking over from Towers and K-Mart stores, which were purchased by Hudson's Bay Company in the early ‘90s.

In the past decade, Hudson's Bay Company was itself purchased by an American businessman and then by an equity investment group from New York. The new owners determined that Zellers was not part of their future and agreed to sell stores to Target and Wal-Mart, with unclaimed stores, including the one in Summerside, being liquidated.

The Summerside store employed between 65 and 100 staff, depending on the season. Many were on hand Saturday, sweeping carpets, rearranging product as shelves cleared and, of course, saying goodbye to customers they have served for years.

Staff gathered for a few presentations earlier in the day, including a 30-year recognition for Linda Power and a Zellers jacket for cart man Paul Saunders. Most had their Zellers shirts signed by other staff as mementos and have a gathering planned for early April.

Canan's future is retirement, but he has received enquiries from other retailers about staff opportunities.

Some Zellers staff found other employment, but most remained to the very end.

There were expressions of regret from staff and customers for the loss of the store and employment, but there was a last-hurrah and interactions seemed light-hearted.

Denise Grant has been with Zellers for 12 years, starting as a cashier and moved through departments.

Grant gained several responsibilities during that time, almost to the level of running the store, but is looking to move on.

She enrolled at university last September, studying English in an arts program with a notion of teaching the language overseas. Zellers accommodated her plans by scheduling her full-time hours around her university coursework.

"I know a lot of staff are sad, especially those who have been her (much longer),” said Grant, recognizing that new employment might be more difficult for older staff to obtain.

Steven Conway, an employee for less than a year, was less affected by the loss. He came in for the last half-hour to help out and say farewell to work mates.

“There’s a couple of people you won’t see anymore, but others you'll stay in contact with," said Conway.

Customer Rose MacCormack felt the loss early, lamenting the closure of Zellers restaurant where she knew many seniors regularly dined. She, like many others, came on the last day just to see what was left and be a small part of retail history.

All the merchandise in the store was sold locally and some was even brought in during the past several months. The Charlottetown location closed in mid-March.

Zeddy was publicly voted to be adopted late last year. His new name is Barry, and he will help children deal with cancer at Camp Trillium.