8-14 Macdonell Street,
Guelph, Ontario N1H 6P7
The recent announcement of the planned closure of the Target chain in Canada, the American retailer that took over the remains of the old Canadian Zellers chain, was international business news, which explains why I read about it in The International New York Times (print edition) in Japan, on Saturday, January 17th. Not just some Target stores are marked for closure to try to stem the haemorrhaging loss of money from the failed expansion project, but every single one. Meanwhile stores like Walmart and Costco are successful, and one lesson here is that the spread of bulk stores is eliminating both shopping choice and shopping variety for consumers by driving competition out of business. It was predicted, of course. Small business owners used to broadcast their position like prophets in the wilderness: the threat posed to independent or family-owned small businesses in general by bulk retailers here and now, and by internet commerce everywhere, as well as the gutting of commercial and residential occupation of urban centers in favour of migration to the suburbs. The bulk retailers respond by referencing the competitive virtues of the free market that they claim to represent, and about how they are serving the community by giving shoppers what they want. But the result is less choice and variety, and bulk stores with stretches of empty shelves that belie their boasts. It feels like mass consumers are being cheated, or at least abused, but the ceaseless barrage of consumerism propaganda makes us either content with it or numb to it.
Years ago, with a much smaller population, Canada supported a greater number of department stores and, below them, medium size retailers like Zellers. But today, with a greater population, the economy can’t support that any longer? Something is wrong. All these clever people with MBAs, educated beyond their intelligence, are running retail into the ground by over-reliance on nimble, excessively-clever ways of making money, like financial market chicanery, at the expense of sound customer service. I know what’s coming next: the death of the shopping mall. In Guelph the Willow West Mall already died, at least in its original incarnation. Stone Road Mall has been a focus of commerce and teenage culture for decades, but it is not immune to failure.
Some people might say that the death of shopping malls is a good thing since their development was a blight on the physical and cultural landscape in the first place. But in Guelph I always liked a trip to Stone Road Mall when I was growing up, so I don’t feel negatively about shopping malls. It was a fun place to meet friends and just walk around looking even if we weren’t buying. Just being there was an event. Guelph was just the right size that a trip to the mall was not too far from home. I always liked Zellers but I never felt the same about Target. I could have if the store had done a better job of earning my trade.
Published on Thursday, January 22, 2015 as “Consumers being offered less choice and variety.”
I didn’t know that this piece had been printed until August 2015 when I was home in Canada on vacation and saw that my mother had cut it out of the newspaper and left it on my old bedroom desk. I did not write it as a letter to the editor but as a guest editorial essay. It was edited and printed as a letter anyway, without consulting me about it. Oh, well, I’m not unhappy about it, but being surprised is one of my greatest dislikes.