Club Z points and affordable lunches: CBC readers share their memories of Zellers

This story idea came from audience members, like you, who got in touch with us. Email us your Zellers memories or questions about what’s next for the brand. We are listening:

Earlier this week, Hudson’s Bay Co. announced that it was resurrecting Zellers, the storied Canadian discount retail chain.

Founded in London, Ont., in 1931, Zellers eventually expanded across the country. It was acquired by HBC in 1978, and at its peak in the late 1990s, it had 350 locations.

Zellers’s slogan was “Where the lowest price is the law.” But after years of competition from big-box retailers such as Walmart, the retain chain officially closed in 2013.

The announcement of Zellers’s return — in the form of an e-commerce site as well as a physical presence in existing Hudson’s Bay locations — generated a lot of feedback from CBC readers, who shared their opinions on this long-time Canadian brand.

Subhash G. wrote: “Zellers stores were amazing. My wife and I always felt relaxed while shopping at Zellers. Good prices, good products, great customer service. Welcome back, Zellers!”

“Zellers resurrecting? I’m thrilled!” said Roz B. “I have fond memories of shopping for clothes and housewares, walking past the diner and [seeing] folks scarfing down plates of fries… It was a more genteel, relaxed version of Walmart, and I felt a tug when the stores shuttered. If and when the chain reopens, I’ll be there with bells on.”

WATCH | Hudson’s Bay announces the return of Zellers:

Hudson’s Bay to bring back discount retailer Zellers

A decade after closing its doors, Hudson’s Bay Company wants to revive the Zellers brand. The company says it plans to launch a new e-commerce website and sell products under the discount label in some Bay stores by early 2023.

“Our Zellers was great,” said Dave C. “It’s where I scored a Cabbage Patch doll for my younger sister when they first came out. Both the one in Ottawa at Heron Gate Mall and the one in Dartmouth [N.S.] at Mic Mac Mall were clean, well-stocked and had lots of staff.”

“I remember Zellers always having great, fair pricing for everything in their stores,” wrote Linda V. “The stores may not have been beautiful, but if you are going to keep pricing down for everyday people, then something has to give.. .which was fine by me and likely most Zellers shoppers.”

feelings of nostalgia

For many readers, Zellers was an important part of the community.

“We had a Zellers store in Nanaimo, BC, and they had a great lunch room which became a meeting place for all the seniors in the area. Food was good and prices reasonable,” said Sylvia G. “Community is so important and closing this store had a big negative impact.”

“When I turned 15 years old in 1985, my first job was at our local Zellers in Sydney, NS,” wrote Heather P. “I have the fondest memories of my co-workers and things like ‘warm fuzzy awards’ given to employees , and Big Z burgers.”

A toy truck with the slogan 'your store...because the lowest price is the law...everyday!'
Zellers touted itself as the place where ‘the lowest price is the law,’ a slogan memorialized on this toy truck. (Hayden Watters/CBC)

“Canada needs something other than Walmart or Giant Tiger,” said Anna G. “I hope that [the Hudson’s Bay] can make this work. I hate Walmart but do go there for essentials like toilet paper and mops and cleaning supplies.”

Marg T. wrote: “We loved shopping at Zellers because of the program of Club Z points. You could accumulate the points and buy merchandise or use to go travel. We chose the travel. We live in New Brunswick and we had enough points accumulated to fly the three of us from Montreal to London, England, and then on to Ireland…. A thank-you to Zellers!!”

“Zellers was a community staple, particularly for small rural communities, and a special place to shop,” said Amy J. “I am saddened that it was taken from us and then what was promised in return was closed down before we even had a chance to enjoy it. I hope to see a full comeback — Canadians want to support Canadian companies and I would gladly stop frequenting Walmart and Amazon to support Zellers!”

Doubts about success

Several readers pointed out that Hudson’s Bay is now foreign-owned. A number of respondents were also dubious about Zellers’s return.

“Fingers crossed for their success, but I suspect it is too little and too late, as they have already lost all their best retail spaces and market share. They could never compete with the power of Walmart, but they could probably go head to head with Giant Tiger, or maybe locate in smaller communities where there is no Walmart,” wrote Matt S.

A person walks by a closing Zellers store in Etobicoke, Ont., in 2020. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

Sarah K. said, “I doubt it will be the Zellers we all liked; you know, the one that actually sold Canadian made products. Those days are gone, and frankly, I agree with the other people who speak of buying less junk from China and other offshore sweatshops and better-made locally produced goods [instead]. The only problem with that dream is that globalization ate our manufacturing sector.”

Jonathan S. wrote that HBC “would not need to resurrect Zellers if HBC would just adjust their prices to reflect reality.”

Meanwhile, Francis L. wondered: “Who in their right mind is nostalgic about Zellers?”

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