Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Rotting Decaying Corpse of Zellers Gerrard Square

At the corner of Pape and Gerrard in the Riverdale/South Riverdale/The Pocket/Leslieville neighbourhood of Toronto is the local mall, Gerrard Square. Built in the early 1970s, the mall boasted the only Simpsons-Sears store in the former City of Toronto, mainly due to contracts drawn up by part-owner Simpsons which mandated no-compete zones which prevented "Sears" from opening in areas already served by "Simpsons" (The actual zone was 25 miles, but I guess Riverdale was far enough into the hinterland that Simpsons didn't care). Other tenants of the time included Miracle Food Mart, Steak N' Burger Restaurant and the budget-offshoot of Eaton's, Horizon. It is in the space of this former Horizon store that this story takes place. 

After folding the Horizon brand, Eaton's opened stores under its own nameplate in Gerrard Square and across-town in Dufferin Mall. The stores were small, but carried a general selection of the dry goods that they perceived families needed without having to trudge all the way downtown from far-flung burgs like Riverdale. The store lasted until the late 80s when, during one of several downsizings, Eaton's closed down their smaller, less-profitable stores. Coupled with the Zellers aquisition of the Oshawa Group's Towers chain, a nearby Towers store in Riverdale Plaza was closed, and Zellers opened in Gerrard Square. (Finding actual dates for these events is challenging)

Fast-forward to 2011. The mall had been redeveloped in the early 2000's which saw the Sears store, which had been demoted to a rather horrible outlet store, closed, the creature comforts upgraded, a Home Depot, Winners and Business Depot opened. The American chain Lord And Trailer Taylor decided that Zellers had become an asset only in what they could get for their leaseholds, so they divested themselves of Walter Zeller's nameplate and reaped nearly two BILLLLLION DOLLARS from Target Corporation for the lease on 220 stores, including Gerrard Square. The store was deemed too small for Target's needs, so they resold the lease to Walmart Canada. It was announced that Zellers would start liquidating the store starting September 24, 2012. I documented the demise at various points during the liquidation period. 

As inventories dwindled, Zellers moved their stock toward the north side of the store so that renovations could start. Once the southern part of the store was cleared of toys, clothing, electronics, hardware and seasonal items, the walls were stripped and painted Walmart blue, the floors were resurfaced and new shelving was installed. 

  Unlike most doomed Zellers, the pharmacy stayed open until moving across the floor to the Walmart (photo taken September 17, 2012)
 An unusual sight: Walmart signs directing clients to their newly-opened pharmacy, operating within the still-open Zellers store
 Although sparse in design, the "Pharmacist at Walmart" is open for business (photos taken October 12, 2012)
 The Great Divide. Liquidation on the left, renovation on the right.
 Behind the Curtain. New Shelving waiting for the boat from China filled with cheap crap new merchandise to arrive.
 The former direct exit to Gerrard Street, which became a fire exit under Zellers' watch.

 Six more days to go.... (photos taken October 20, 2012)

 Note the "Lowest Price..." sign. There used to be a second one, which has now been whitewashed by Walmart.

 Checking In....
 Checking Out...

 Last light 
(photos taken October 25, 2012)
 (now if they could only get rid of these creepy 'squares')
 Last employees share a tearful goodbye.

Store closed. Doors locked. Walmart blue already painted across the doorway. (Photos taken October 26, 2012)

Later today, Walmart opens where Zellers closed. Photos taken at 1000 Gerrard Street East in Toronto, Ontario between September 17 and October 26, 2012.

UPDATE: Barely a day after the last photo was taken, Walmart moved in to the southern half of the now-former Zellers space. Initial offerings were fairly sparse, with pet food, some small appliances, Halloween candy, health and beauty aids and shoes being the first items on offer. Interestingly, they didn't resurface the store, leaving numerous red stripes on the floor. Also, it appears that HBC still has control of the store's staff lunch room as they've had to throw together a fenced-in area with foldable tables right in the middle of the store for staff to unwind (and customers to gawk at). Here are some shots from soft launch opening day.

Bottom set of photos taken October 27, 2012 at 1000 Gerrard Street East, Toronto, Ontario.

UPDATE: 12/18/2012 - It appears that they've finally put the external Walmart sign on the Gerrard Street side of the mall. Mall management didn't even repaint the area, as the dirt from the old Zellers sign is still visible beneath. Now if they could just get rid of the square people....

UPDATE: 1/25/2013 - Well, after being open for almost 3 months, Walmart holds its Grand Opening today. Here's a sneak peak from last night:

 You are here

 Electronics Department

 Your Depend-able Pharmacist

 Former pharmacy area, with emergency exits in the background

 Not ready (for you) to go

Indecent Enclosure


nancy said...

Thanks Blair. That Zellers had been my go-to place for baby things, basic household items and a destination of last resort for emergency clothing needs. I'll miss the store, but more than that, I'll miss the Zellers name. Great story to the pictures. Great pictures.

MJ said...

Yes- I'd like to thank you, as well.
I continued to use the pharmacy over the last few months, despite having moved across the city this summer. It's been a very interesting transition... and I'm glad you took the time to document the changes.
Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Nice photos. I worked there for years right up until they closed. Had a lot of shitty customers, but the staff was really cool. Had some good times there. I`m going to miss that place.