Did WalMart hit their Target in Canada?

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A few years ago, I had a job performing live in-store infomercials (really, don’t ask) in places like Zellers. One night, I was packing up my booth after the store had closed for the night when I overheard a few of the employees talking. Their subject: just what they would do after the store closed for good.

The younger man, a security guard, already had another job lined up. The older woman, though, who was close to retirement age and from what I could glean had worked at that particular Zellers for over three decades, really didn’t know.

You see, when Target bought 133 Zellers locations from the Hudson Bay Company in 2012, heralding their plans to go full-force into the Canadian market, they bought the property, not the contracts of the people who worked there. This was the first time Target would be responsible for a mass layoff in Canada, the second happened two weeks ago.

We all heard the news: Target Canada is closing up shop and 17 500 people will be out of work very soon. Reaction was swift and varied. Some lamented the loss of a store that was convenient, somewhat affordable and that they had only just discovered. Others blasted Target management for barren shelves, comparing it to a slightly more expensive Zellers with less stuff. A third group was almost gleeful at the prospect of more authentic local businesses taking Target’s place, while still offering condolences for the loss of jobs.

Honestly, I think I took the high road, by making the all-too-obvious pun that no one else seemed to have realized. #punlife #ihadto

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But, on reflection, there’s nothing funny about 17 500 people losing their jobs. It’s also not funny that the top managers whose horrible planning caused this fiasco are getting some rather nice severance packages while their former employees won’t be getting anything. It’s pretty much Corporate Failure Recovery 101.

It’s as good a reason as any to abandon the corporate megastore dependence our economy seems to have developed over the past few decades and think local and sustainable. Unfortunately I don’t think that’s going to be the case and I fear what may come next

Target stores are huge. The likelihood a mall will opt to convert them into smaller spaces for multiple businesses is extremely unlikely.

They’ll probably be looking for tenants able to occupy the same space as one unit. This means huge chains. It appears that Japanese giant Uniqlo will be coming to Canada, but I doubt they’d go for the former Target locations. This means, best-case scenario, Dollaramas too big for their own good, or worst-case scenario…WalMart!

That’s right, the scourge of the Mom and Pop store and the champions of fighting against fair wages south of the border were instrumental in assisting Target’s Canadian catastrophe. They lowered their prices, losing money in the process but also making it impossible for Target to compete. They also offered free delivery for online orders to Canadian customers. Rumour (completely unsubstantiated though completely believable rumour) has it they even bought up significant portions of potential Target inventory just to make life difficult for the competition.

You’d better believe WalMart has their eyes on the former Zellers locations they didn’t gobble up in 2012. Back then a handful of Zellers’ did turn into WalMarts instead of Targets, now I fear the rest will fall as well.

While Zellers may have been a depository of cheap sweatshop-made goods, from what I could tell, they at least treated their domestic employees well. Target was a step down and if Walmart comes in full-force, we will have really gone off the deep end.

Having WalMarts everywhere, though, may just be the solution to the problem of corporate megastores once and for all. Think about it: instead of some watered down Can-Con exploitation or a very confused conglomerate, we’ll have the beast itself in way more places than it was before. WalMart tends to focus on places a little out of the way where they can have huge parking lots and run small enterprises out of business. Some of the current Target locations are centrally located.

As someone once said to me, “George W. Bush was the best recruiting tool the protest movement had in the last 50 years.” Maybe an abundance of WalMarts in urban areas will be the perfect targets (yes, pun intended) for activists and people looking for something close by to boycott.

Looking at the big picture, I can only hope this will spell the end of our dependence on the chain store. On a more personal level, I can only hope that woman I overheard in 2012 found work or is now in happy retirement.

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