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The Bay is resurrecting Zellers

Hear ye, hear ye: news dropped this week as to which Hudson’s Bay (HBC, The Bay) department stores will feature restored Zellers stores within their existing footprints.

This news isn’t a complete surprise as the Bay has been dropping tidbits about this brand within a brand for the past year.

I may be out of line here, but who exactly is crying to see the return of Zellers?

The Lowest Price was the Law

Zellers by its own admission was a Canadian discount retail chain. It was founded in 1931 by Walter Zeller and obtained by HBC in 1978.

The company peaked during the '90s with approximately 350 stores nationwide. Walmart came to town, however, and swiftly took a large bite out of Zellers' bottom line.

Some locations were converted to Target stores in a lease sell-off by HBC for approximately $1.825 billion in January 2011.

All remaining branded Zellers stores were liquidated and closed by the spring of 2013 (save for a couple of outlet-type locations).

And we all know what happened to those short-lived Targets.

Testing the waters

Since then, a fierce letter-writing campaign by concerned Canadian citizens to bring back the beloved brand caused HBC to rethink its priorities to the Canadian discount retail shopping public.

OK, not quite.

But in August 2021, HBC launched a Zellers pop-up inside a singular Bay store situated in Burlington, Ont.

I’ve not read of any hard figures to justify the relaunch of the Zellers brand, but it's safe to say HBC executives deemed the test balloon in Burlington sufficiently successful to expand the idea further.

HBC has announced 25 Bay stores across Canada will feature 8,000- to 10,000-square-foot Zellers within them.

I know you’re waiting for it: Saskatoon’s Midtown Plaza is on the list.

With three floors of prime real estate in Saskatoon’s premiere shopping centre, the Bay here certainly has room to house this suspect retail experiment.

Sorry, maybe next time, Regina.

Does Zellers deserve a second chance?

Depends on who you ask.

I frequented the Zellers closest to me in North Battleford at the Territorial Mall as a kid and was later a patron of the Market Mall store here in Saskatoon. But I haven’t started shopping at Walmart and I wouldn’t say I miss Zellers per se.

Giant Tiger and Dollarama have both filled the gap in my neighbourhood.

I’m worried this retro throwback is coming with a little too much hype to really be able to capture what Zellers was. And if we’re being fair, it wasn’t overly special.

They are touting a “brand spankin’ new and opening up 25 locations (to start!) within select Hudson’s Bay stores across the country – so you can see for yourself what all the excitement’s about.”

Hmmm, forgive me if I’m skeptical.

In the meantime, I’m now doubling down on starting to read a book I picked up months ago that details the full history of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

How the heck did they get from trading furs to selling high-end everything in Toronto’s 850,000-square-foot flagship?

Stay tuned for that book review.

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