In a small town, department stores play a key role in the local economy.
So when Zellers and Fields announced they’re closing their Smithers stores, it left a few people wondering where they’ll make their next department store purchase.
“It’s not something we’ve talked about at council, I think it’s something we’re going to discuss because it’s a topic I’m hearing a lot from the community,” Mayor Taylor Bachrach said.
“People are very aware losing two low-cost retailers in town is going to have an impact on consumer choices.”
Early last year Target bought out Zellers stores across Canada as they continued their expansion into Canadian markets.
“It’s a lease non-renewal as the reason for the close,” Tiffany Bourre, spokesperson for Zeller’s parent company HBC, said.
“We’re not looking at a new location [in Smithers] at the moment.”
Many Zellers stores, including the one in Smithers, have to close their doors because Target doesn’t want to keep certain locations.
After reviewing the Smithers Zellers store, Target decided not to renew the lease and as of February 27, 2013, Zellers will be closed for good.
“It’s not concerning at this point because we haven’t heard what’s going to be replacing that [Zellers],” Smithers Chamber of Commerce Manager Heather Gallagher said.
“There are rumblings something will be filling that space.”
However, Zellers is only half the issue.
Fields is already on it’s way out and again nothing concrete has surfaced as to what will fill that space as well.
Smithers is full of retail stores, however most stores in the downtown core cater to niche markets, offering higher-priced items that can’t always accommodate lower income customers.
Zellers and Fields offered a low-cost option for shoppersand their closing leaves local shoppers with few options except to travel to Terrace and Prince George.
But, Allen Stroet, the Bulkley Valley’s Economic Development Officer, is hard at work to ensure Smithereens spend their hard earned dollars locally.
Although Stroet couldn’t say what will be taking over the empty Fields space, he said he has assurances from the owners something is coming in the near future.
Whether or not it’s a department store remains to be seen.
“People just want to know where they can buy bed sheets and children’s clothes and shoes,” Stroet said.
“As far as the Zellers goes, I’ve been working with the real estate company that owns the building and they’ve had some preliminary talks with interested parties,” he said.
In a world of big box department stores it’s tough for a small town like Smithers to offer a large enough space for the building alone not to mention the merchandise.
For example, the Zellers in Prince Rupert is 40,000 square feet, which will become the smallest Target store in Canada.
The Zellers store in Smithers is only 25,000 square feet.
Still, as small town rumors begin to gain momentum, Stroet tries to put them at rest.
“Of course, there’s always the blue-vested elephant in the room,” Stroet said, referring to rumours Walmart is knocking at the door again.
“The stance of the BVEDA is that we’re not going to break down their door and invite them here but we’re also not going to push them away.
“The role of the BVEDA is to work with businesses coming to town. Whether it be WalMart or any other business.”
However, Stroet said Smithers has an advantage in growing its economy.
“Smithers is very good at attracting talent,” he said.
“Brains come to Smithers.”
Though Stroet added quickly that not everyone is in the position to shop at the more boutique-type shops in town.
“It’s up to the Town, the Chamber of Commerce and the BVEDA to try and fill those voids and it’s up to business to be cognizant of what’s available,” Stroet said.
But it doesn’t negate the fact that Smithers is still without a department store come February 2013.
“I’m really interested in working with the local business community to look at how we can provide a local solution to that challenge,” Bachrach said.
“Local business is really important to Smithers and we need to emphasize the value of shopping locally.
“It supports our community in so many ways.”