Friday, March 8, 2013

A Farewell to Zellers

This month, after 82 years, the last of 220 Zellers department stores across Canada will be closing their doors. Millions of shoppers and thousands of past and present associates are sad to see its demise.

When they opened their doors in 1931, it was promoted as "stores for thrifty people," and over forty years later, it became an important part of my life. It wasn't the shopping aspect that meant so much to me. Their head office in Montreal was my employer for almost a decade, and throughout that time, there were some wonderful years.

We employees were a pretty close-knit group and the company did much to help keep spirits high. Each of the seven floors had one staff member who was a BRC (Better Relations Committee) member. Together, they would plan several events during the course of the year including car rallies, sugaring off parties (maple syrup runs), dances, the annual Christmas party and the seasonal events which helped pay for it all - the sample sales.

A few times a year, Zellers buyers would locate, collect and turn over the promotional samples they received from suppliers over the previous months. As with any department store, these items ranged from very the very small - cosmetics, sewing needles, flower seeds or women's socks to much more interesting merchandise like winter coats, televisions, sporting equipment, luggage and gold jewellery. They were laid out on long tables in the basement lunchroom, where many of our after-work parties were held. As soon as the work day was done, we would line up outside of the large room. When all was ready we were given access, and off we went in search of our great bargains - 10¢ for a bottle of shampoo, $12 coats, $15 for a tent.. and so on. It was like going on a shopping spree with 500 of your best friends.

Speaking of best friends, Zellers was where my enduring friendship with Carol Anne began. Along with other friends of the time, we attended many of the above-mentioned events together - the most memorable of which were the car rallies. We were all pretty young at the time, and only one member of our gang had a vehicle. Derek (or Erek with a D, as we sometimes called him) was always the driver. There were usually six of us traveling in his Jimmy, and the navigator varied from one rally to the next.

Carol Anne and yours truly sometime around 1978.

We made a good team and typically we won or came in second but one time we came in dead last. Oh we were doing great for most of the day - passing all the right check points in good time, and figuring out the clues as we usually did. But driving along a country road, just as we passed a corn field, we succumbed to a flat tire. And there was no spare. We watched as car after numbered car passed us by while Derek and one of the others went off in search of a station to get the tire patched. The cornfield served as a nice, discreet place to hide ourselves when we females had to pee. We eventually arrived at our destination just in time to receive the booby prize which ironically, happened to be a tire pump. Since most of us had no idea where the rally actually took us, maps were handed out to find our way back to Montreal after the usual dinner and dance.

I was with Zellers in '76 when Field's, an American retailer purchased a majority hold, making for some unhappy shareholders. Months later, Zellers pulled a reverse takeover instead, buying out one of Field's divisions which meant acquiring numerous stores. Our Personnel department threw a surprise celebration party for all head office employees after work that day. Champagne and wine flowed, delicious entrées and treats were served along with the biggest, most extravagant multi-tiered giant shrimp fountain I have ever seen. They knew how to party.

We had regular parties or dances to celebrate whatever the calendar brought our way. Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's, the start of a season or because we just hadn't had one in a while. There was always music, wine, beer and munchies and they took place on Thursdays, after work.

Every November, there was a Christmas party for employees only. Our numbers were high so it was understandable that significant others were not included. The one exception was when Zellers celebrated their 50th anniversary in 1981.

For a week or two every December, we'd all be given a free half-hour at the start of the day to gather in the lunch room to sing Christmas songs. Different employees volunteered to lead the singing each day, and we got to know who would opt for which songs. And it helped that they handed out songbooks with the lyrics. There was one buyer who sobbed every time she lead us through O Holy Night, and who had us giggling over the silliness of Suzy Snowflake - a song I had never heard before, and only heard once afterwards but will always remember note for note.

One of the most important life changes happened for me while I worked for Zellers. For the first several years, I handled a block of suppliers for their Accounts Payable department. One of those suppliers was a small company called K.D.F. Industries whose nearby factory was run by Don. He came to collect his business cheque one day, took me to lunch and we married two years later. Though we have since gone our separate ways, we remain good friends and will always share the love for our two beautiful sons.

Like any place, not everything was wonderful about working at Zellers. They had their share of office politics and unfair treatment, difficult bosses and supervisors who could practically get away with murder but as you can see, Zellers was good to me in many ways and I'll miss its presence very much.

Bye-bye, Zellers. Thanks for the many fond memories.

The following photos are unrelated to the post but I do hope you enjoy them.

february storm3
Though taken in Frank's back yard in southern Ontario, this snowfall is a little more reminiscent of Montreal winters.

mourning dove snow
Lovely as they are, mourning doves are not the brightest birds.

mourning dove in snow
These two didn't even have the sense to find shelter from the snow.

mourning dove snow4
Yeah, I'm talking about you!

hawk with starling
This beauty had some hunting to do. That's a starling in the hawk's talons.

iced over creek2
The next day, the sun shone bright and beautiful.

mouse tracks
I'm thinking mouse tracks - dragging that little tail behind him. Does anyone know for sure?

snowed path
A pristine path. Not even Benny has broken through yet.

february storm6
The snow on Frank's roof was like a giant soft ice cream cone about to land on its head. Or on one of ours.

february storm
Before too long, the days will warm up and the snow will melt (in truth that table is all cleared off again by now) and we'll probably sit out there having a drink and looking forward to summer.

Soon, I hope!

Thanks for listening to my stories about Zellers and for sharing our February snowfall. Soon, I'll have some photos of how Benny managed the deep snow.


Leave It To Davis said...

It's sad when another store that we have loved and shopped at or worked for bites the dust. There have been way too many this and past decades. I suppose it's partially due to the internet. I know I shop a lot online now. I just hate getting out in the crowded stores. People on the whole are so rude.

I enjoyed you story about your past work experiences and the good times you had there. I also loved the "mouse prints" in the snow and the Dairy Queen ice cream on Frank's roof! As always, your pictures are amazing!

Anonymous said...

Oh, that is a lot of snow! How lovely! And fantastic pictures too.

Pierre BOYER said...

Best regards from France...


Frank Baron said...

I'll miss Zellers too. I bought most of my own, and the lads' clothes there.

Nice pics (of course). Pretty sure those are mouse/rat/vole tracks.

And you'll be pleased to know there's only a half-inch or so of snow left on that table.

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

Hilary, that was such a beautiful turn down Reminiscence Lane! I can see how much your younger son looks like your younger self.
And the snow photos? Gorgeous!

Linda said...

Great shots! Love the birds. Wow, you got a lot of snow!

Zuzana said...

Dear Hilary, i truly enjoyed this retelling from your past and I love you on that picture, what a beauty - now i know who your gorgeous son got the hair from;)
It was a beautifully sentimental post and somehow hit home with me as i will be partying my ways with my current employer after 20 years service. It is all very bittersweet and a bit scary.
Have a great weekend - and as always, love all the photos.

Sueann said...

Those are great memories! What a blessing in your life.
Love the snow pics

Betty Manousos said...

wow, that is a lot of snow!

what a wonderful trip down memory lane for you, hilary!
such beautiful snowy landscape pictures too!
utterly beautiful! thanks for the enchantment!

big hugs~

A Cuban In London said...

It's sad to bid farewell to an institution like Zeller's seemed to be. Those were beautiful memories that you shared with us. Many thanks. Lovely photos, too.

Greetings from London.

Brian Miller said...

oh wow...that hawk shot is amazing....i feel for you on zellers...i grew up on the loading dock of montgomery wards...helped build the one here and it was my first real job...they have been gone a few years now though...what a cool pic of you...younger but still easy to see...smiles.

DJan said...

Your story was wonderful, even if a little bittersweet to hear the stores are going away. They were central in your life, however, not to mention essential to your sons' lives! Beautiful pictures, as usual. I always love your captures :-)

Leah J. Utas said...

What a loving tribute to Zellers. I'm glad to hear such a personal take on it.

Daryl said...

wonderful memories and its amazing to see you back then looking just as you do today .. okay so your hair maybe longer now ;)

Mental P Mama said...

I nominate this foe POTW!!! Wonderful!

OmaLindasOldeBaggsandStuftShirts said...

Thanks for this very thoughtful memory post. I love the photo of you and friends.
And I must agree with your view on Mourning Doves....uh slow.
Have a great weekend filled with everything you need and a side order of what you want. Oma Linda

ellen abbott said...

thanks for the story. I love learning more about your life. and the snow. all I can say is...better you than me.

Gail Dixon said...

Awww, I know you're going to miss the store's presence. You look so cute in your 1978 pic! Sounds like it was a fun place to work. LOVED your snow shots. That's a novelty for this southern gal. Enjoy your weekend!

TexWisGirl said...

thanks for sharing your memories of zellers. sounds like a really neat place to work - and bond. i had one of those for 17 1/2 yrs. *sigh*

loved all your photos. ice cream cone, for sure!

Mage said...

So sorry about Zellers. Every town used to have it's own department store, and some of those did a good job of Zellers. Here we had Marstons, which was bought out by Broadway which was then bought by Macy's. It's a shame Zellers couldn't have continued on in some fashion.

Jo said...

I'm so glad you shared that, it's a wonderful story. Love the pic of you, all golden. It seems like you were describing a different world, not just a different time...if the workplace could be like that again, I think people would be so much happier.

Ruth Hiebert said...

One thing no store closing can take from you and that is the many memories you have of Zellars. I enjoyed the snow pictures,even though I ma ready to see some grass,but all in due time.

Red said...

I found your inside story on Zeller's very interesting. You obviously loved working for them and then shopping at Zeller's. I'm not a shopper but my wife thought Zeller's was the best.
You've really had s snowfall there.

Red said...

I would like to nominate this for a POST OF THE WEEK.

messymimi said...

We've lost several of our old businesses like that -- bought out or taken over or just closed up. It's always bittersweet to remember them.

Snow is so pretty -- if i didn't get so achingly cold, i'd love to play in some!

photowannabe said...

Sorry such an institution is calling it quits. It sounds like it was really good to you. Love the tribute and wow, the photos are terrific.
Love, Love, love the "ice cream cone" on Frank's roof.

Mimi said...

Zellers sounds like a nice place to work. I really enjoyed reading your account very much. Pity that nowadays companies don't really do that. At least, it seems to me that everything is regulation, health and safety and NO FUN!
Your photos are terrific, as always.

Cloudia said...

snow covered sparrow touched my heart, hawk quickened it, pristine path filled me with inexplicable joy (as did even the though of Benny discovering it)

And thanks for sharing your dear nostos algos with us. a Lovely and familiar tale well shared...

ALOHA from Honolulu
Comfort Spiral
~ > < } } ( ° > <3
> < } } ( ° >

Linda at To Behold The Beauty said...

You have painted a wonderful picture of Zellers as an employer. It's a place that will always recall fond memories for you...and one of those is your enduring friendship with CA. The pictures are stunning, including the not-too-bright doves and the regal hawk.

Indrani said...

Lovely picture of young you. :)

It is too much competition and markets doing not so well. Sad to see it go.

Great series of shots.

Suldog said...

Sorry to hear about the end of Zellers, even though I had never heard of it before today. It sounds as though they were a classy employer. The world could use more such retailers, not fewer.

Anvilcloud said...

My mother was a Zellers sales clerk, mostly in fabrics, for about 20 years. She worked at a store in Montreal and then two in Mississauga.

yaya said...

Of course here in the States we didn't have Zellers but we have had our fair share of big dept. stores go bust in this changing world and economy. It sounds like a good place to work and you have great memories of being there. I love to hear stories like that. I also loved your early pic..aren't you a cutie! Your snow pics are great. Good catch of the hawk and poor little dinner guest. The mouse shot reminds me of myself when I tail dragging! Have a good weekend!

Anonymous said...

It's tough when those icons of our younger days disappear. Thank goodness we can hold onto our memories, and it sounds like you have some great ones! Love your snow photos - and now we know those mourning doves aren't quite as daffy as we thought! hehe

lime said...

thanks for sharing your happy memories about zellers. it sounds like you really had some great times there and built a sense of family among coworkers.

the pictures are lovely as always and the dripping ice cream snow makes me just giggle.

Unknown said...

Hilary: What a great story about Zellers. There are about 10 stores in my hometown that suffered this same fate. What I enjoyed most was reading about your friendships from working there. The photo of your group really brought home the fun! :)

Bob Bushell said...

A beautiful full of snow, and the pictures sells it all. Cheers Hilary.

Karen said...

It's sad when a place so full of memories closes. Too many are doing that now-a-days. Wow, love to "look" at the piles of snow-as long as I don't have to get in it. :) Great shot of the birds, wow!

Anonymous said...

Your Zellers' tale is reminiscent of the local store, Gottschalks, except that Gottschalks did have a much longer run--1889 to 2009--but many of the same things occurred. The chain was well loved in the San Joaquin Valley, but with a change of corporate direction, the chain tried to branch out too far and too fast and was not as beloved in other parts of the country. Over extended and under funded, the company finally folded up after all sorts of end-runs. I sure miss shopping there.

NitWit1 said...

Sounds like a high class store than our US giant WalMart.

I hate to change my shopping habits, even my hairdresser...funny how we ae creatures of habit.

Kerry said...

Your snow and birds are all absolutely stunning.

I worked in a department store for awhile in the '70s but it wasn't as great an experience as ours. Zellers sounds really special and it is sad to see it go. Someone just mentioned Gottschalks, a dept store that I was only recently introduced to, just before it went belly-up, darnit. They had an elevator and very nice bathrooms.

Shrinky said...

Hilary, what a beautiful post. I simply loved hearing your reminisces of your Zeller days, and of some of the great adventures you and the others shared there. On the whole, yes, it does sound as though this was a good place to be, with decent management and loyal staff (funny how that second bit always follows the first, isn't it?), I can well imagine your mixed emotions over it's closure - sigh.

Incidentally, wow girl, how gorgeous are you in that pic? Ahhh, little wonder you turned the head of your future husband when he saw you! I wish you would recount more of your tales, this is such a beautiful read, it felt like I was peeking through the window and observing everyone there.

Ha, I can't believe that bird there, sitting gathering snow on his head - silly boy! Oh, and to have captured that shot of the hunter and his prey, truly amazing work - I'm in awe!

Dianne said...

I love how you always point out how the doves are not that bright, makes me smile as I do the same things with the 2 that sit on the wire and coo until I want to rip my ears off

sorry about Zellers
seems that very few established shops survive anymore
too many big box giants

Unknown said...

Sorry about losing Zellers. But what wonderful memories! Love your doves ... they are so dumb and vulnerable though.

Hena Tayeb said...

It's interesting how many memories and stories a store can have for people.. sorry to see it go.
Look at all that snow!

Sue@TheUrbanSmallholders said...

Lovely pictures, Hilary, and lovely story. I particularly like the one of you and your best friend, having just spent a long weekend catching up with mine. Can't quite believe the four of us have known each other for twenty three years.
Love the snowy pics at Frank's too. Always so beautiful out there in every season.

Anita said...

It's good that you have such a vivid memory of a time in your young life that is filled with joy and friendship. And centered around a department store! :) Thanks for sharing the picture, too! It's always fun to see what we were like years ago.

And the snow pictures are always nice to see, too. If I see the snow there, maybe it won't come here! (The mourning dove's eyes are spectacular.)

Anita said...

I thought I should clarify my "department store" comment. I totally get it. There have been stores in my life that I hated to see go. It's like a little piece of your life goes with it.

By the way, my teen friends and I used to meet in the parking lot of a grocery store! :)

SandyCarlson said...

Last things first, you've got some serious snow going on up there! And some hardy birds!

That's a great tribute to Zellers. Kind of sad...

And that's a great profile photo.

Pearl said...

Oh, I'm so sorry. One of the things I track at work is what companies own what, how they split off and what becomes of them. It always makes me sad.

On the other hand, look! More snow! :-) Got almost eight inches here last week. Spring approacheth...


Geraldine said...

I did not know that Zellers was closing, that's sad. One of the better mid-range dept. stores in Canada. I liked it a LOT better than Walmart.

Great pic of you Hilary, what a babe!!! :<)

Happy Week, G

Linda said...

It is sad when a favorite store, whether large or a mom & pop closes. We've seen many stores come and go here over the years. The same with favorite restaurants.

I love the snow pictures. Thanks for sharing since we didn't get but a light dusting this year.

I quite agree about the doves. They will sit in the driveway until the last second before getting out of the way of the car, and that is if you slow down to a crawl.

J Graham said...

Wow, this makes me want snow! And a cute little dog like Benny to go for walks with! And the ability to take breathtaking photos!

But since I don't have any of these things, I really appreciate your sharing these lovely pics. :)


Dave said...

Sad about your Zellers ceasing business Hilary. I sometimes get annoyed when rich people or companies buy up good companies and close them down. It happens here too. Isn't it called Asset "Stripping"? - Dave