Opening and closing Maple Ridge Zellers

Gwen Epp raised two children while working at the Zellers store in Maple Ridge since it opened in 1981. - Colleen Flanagan/The News
Gwen Epp raised two children while working at the Zellers store in Maple Ridge since it opened in 1981.
— image credit: Colleen Flanagan/The News

It's a frenetic pace these days in Zellers, behind the grimy glass doors plastered with red, yellow and black signs blasting "Everything 40/70% off lowest ticketed price," "Nothing held back," "Closing! Total liquidation."

While a security guard keeps watch, cash registers are humming as shoppers line up and scoop up bargains and march out the door with deals on Tide laundry soap, dish washing liquid and windshield washer fluid.

Zellers, a fixture of shopping in Maple Ridge since Haney Place Mall opened, is closing its doors for good Feb. 11, in preparation for major building renovations, a prelude to the arrival of the American retail giant Target.

Gwen Epp is as busy as ever, as a quick pace is needed to keep up and move about the store in its' last month.

"I opened the store [in 1981] and now I'll be closing the store," she says during her lunch break in the mall's food court.

"I've been here for 31 years and this company has been very good to me."

Epp, 51, started as a clerk in the fabric section, back when the store carried fabrics, moved up to become shipper and receiver in the warehouse and now finishes her career with the Canada-wide chain that's soon to disappear from the retail landscape, as manager of the light fixtures department.

During that time she raised two children, with the full support of her employer. Any time she had a family issue, no problem, she could attend to family business while co-workers and managers covered for her. "I'm really impressed with that. They believe in families first.

"This company's been good to me. I've made a lot of good friends," she adds.

Family is also how she describes her co-workers, and the customers who traipsed in faithfully for three decades.

"We have a lot of regulars who came into our store and they are so sorry to see us go. They miss the restaurant. They're upset."

Epp isn't the only longtime employee.

Janet Drinkle, 62, and Flo Horacsek each worked more than 30 years at Zellers.

Drinkle worked in the shoe department, was known as the "shoe lady," and had planned on retiring on last year anyways. She wants to do some volunteering, but might work at Target part-time, if she gets hired.

"Most of the staff have been here a long time," says Horacsek who's a sales associate in men's wear. "They always try to work with you and they treat you like family. I've not got a bad thing to say."

Says Janet, "They have been very good, very family oriented.

"Change is good," adds Horacsek.

Both plan on being at the store on Feb. 11, when the doors close for the last time. They're not certain if any ceremonies are planned.

One of the store's features was the restaurant, a holdover from the post-war years when the department store was king. The restaurant was also the location of the Haney Senate – a handful of oldtimers who gathered every week for coffee and to trade tall tales.

The old guys, though, didn't just solve world problems during their coffee-and-gab sessions. They also pooled their Zellers points and used them to buy toys for Ridge Meadows Hospital.

Once the liquidator clears out the unsold goods after the store closes, construction crews move in and expand the store and turn it into a Target, ready for next Christmas's shopping season.

The Minneapolis-based chain, is doing the same to another 123 Zellers locations across Canada. After that, only three Zellers will remain, in White Rock, Toronto and Montreal.

How many of the 80 people who now work at the Haney Zellers will turn up at Target remains to be seen.

Most aren't saying much about what their plans are, says Epp.

Some are retiring.

Some are moving away. Some are finding new jobs.

As a new company starting a new business, Target can start with new employees. It didn't take over the Zellers business, just inherited the leasing locations. Target, however, has promised interviews for all current Zellers employees.

For Epp, when one door closes, another will open, somewhere. She's sad the store's closing, but excited about what may follow in her life.

"Myself, I think I might go back to school and upgrade myself.

"As my friends put it, there's life after Zellers."

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