Zellers in Port Alberni is closing.
An employee of Zellers who asked not to be named confirmed the development on Thursday. “We just found out. That’s it. I don’t know what else to say.”
According to the employee the move is slated to take effect in March 2013. “At least I’ve got a year to figure something out. I can move if I have to. Others have been here for a long time though and can’t.”
In November 2011, HBC spokesperson Tiffany Bourre said that “The store is not scheduled to close; it is operating business as usual. No move is planned.”
Bourre wasn’t available for comment at deadline.
In January Minneapolis-based Target Corp. purchased leaseholds on 189 Zellers stores from the Hudson’s Bay Company for $1.8 billion.
In early 2011, Target chose 105 locations in 10 Canadian provinces to become part of their chain, including 15 in B.C.
On the Island, stores in Campbell River, Courtenay, Nanaimo and Victoria are converting to Target stores.
Target finished cherry-picking Zellers stores last fall. Port Alberni wasn’t among the stores picked and no further store acquisitions were planned.
Losing such an anchor tenant is a blow to the uptown area, said uptown merchant Gary Robertson.
“When Target bought all those stores and Alberni’s wasn’t among them you knew their time was up,” Robertson said. “I don’t think anyone is surprised.”
There could be a silver lining in the development though. It could be a bonanza if the right tenants occupy the facility, Robertson said.
“It’s a huge building that you lease to several businesses if you broke the place into smaller pieces,” Robertson said.
A food store, which is badly needed in the uptown area, as well as small movie theatres and a food court in the basement of the Zellers building are two ideas Robertson touted.
“Those things would draw people uptown during the day and night. It would also help stop people from going over the hump to shop and see a movie,” he said.
Another department store like Zellers in the area would be nice. But the growing senior population in the uptown would benefit from a green grocer, said Gayle Stephens-Player, spokespeson for the Historic South Port Society.
“It would be great for them if they could purchase what they need in the uptown,” Stephens-Player said.
The move is sad but Stephens-Player agreed that something else will come along. “It’s like a button off our shirt and in the long term we’ll be fine,” she said. “We’ll carry on.”
Edited to reflect confirmation.