By Neil Corbett
Maple Ridge’s downtown will have another empty space to fill after Target clears out of Haney Place Mall, just more than a year after opening.
The U.S. retail giant announced Thursday it’s shutting down all its 133 Canadian stores, including the Maple Ridge location, which opened in November 2013.
“It’s terrible, and it’ll definitely leave a big hole in our downtown core,” said Ineke Boekhorst, executive-director of the Downtown Maple Ridge Business Improvement Association.
The U.S.-based retailer was granted protection from its creditors in Ontario Supreme Court under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act. Target chairman CEO Brian Cornell said there was no realistic scenario to reach profitability in Canada until 2021.
“We had great expectations for Canada but our early missteps proved too difficult to overcome,” Cornell said.
“Personally, this was a very difficult decision, but it was the right decision for our company.”
Target employs 17,600 people across Canada, with about 120 in Maple Ridge. According to a local Target employee who wished to remain anonymous, workers had been told just two days earlier that the store would not be closing. They first learned about Target’s retreat from Canada through the media.
“That’s something we sympathize with,” said Coun. Bob Masse of the layoffs. “That’s not the way you want to start your new year.”
Target also got court approval to voluntarily place $70 million in an employee trust to “ensure fair treatment of Target Canada employees.”
That will ensure a minimum 16 weeks compensation, including wage and benefit coverage for workers not needed for the full wind-down period. Target stores will remain open during a court-supervised liquidation.
Target gave the former Zellers building an $11-million renovation, including improvements to the western end of the Haney Place Mall parking lot. That should make the building easier to fill.
“They spruced it up quite a bit,” said Boekhorst.
“Hopefully somebody else can benefit from that, and will snap it up.”
Clayton Ansdell stopped by Target on Tuesday and had no idea the chain had announced it would be closing.
He said he was initially excited when he heard Target was coming to Canada.
“I used to stop at the store in Bellingham when I would cross the border. I liked it over there, especially the prices, but this one obviously wasn’t the same,” said Ansdell.
Like many, he said selection was one of the factors that kept him from frequenting the store regularly. Price also played a part.
“I’m a single dad with two kids, so I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do. I’m a flyer shopper. If there’s a good deal somewhere else, that’s where I’m going.”
Maple Ridge Coun. Bob Masse took the news the same way. He pointed out that Target has not yet released a timeline for its closure, and will first liquidate its stores. In the meantime, he said city hall will do what it can, along with the mall owners, to attract a new retailer.
“That’s going to happen – that’s not going to sit as an empty space,” he assured. “That mall’s an important piece of our downtown, and downtown is the heart of the community.”
Chris Sherry, one of the principals in Narland, the Vancouver company that owns the Haney Place Mall, said finding a new tenant is a top priority. He also learned about the Target closures in the media.
“It is with great disappointment that we learn of this announcement, primarily for the many employees that will be affected,” said Sherry.
“Locally speaking, Narland worked effectively together with the District of Maple Ridge to attract Target to Haney Place Mall. Both Narland and Target have made considerable capital investments into the Mall, which will assist tremendously in attracting a replacement anchor tenant,” he added.
“Narland’s management team will be working to execute a plan to backfill the premises at the earliest opportunity.”
Developer Smart Centres recently backed out of a land swap deal it had with the city, that would have allowed for construction of a Wal-Mart on Albion Flats.
Neither Masse nor Boekhorst was aware of any immediate plans for a Wal-Mart in the downtown site. The store is 111,000 square feet, which is approximately the same size as a comparatively new Wal-Mart that opened in Mission.
“That may be part of their considerations,” allowed Masse.
Boekhorst noted Wal-Mart is generally found in stand-alone buildings rather than in malls.
She said Maple Ridge has one of the better Target stores in terms of customer support – largely because local shoppers don’t have many options for department store shopping. Those details were not available from the local store.
The store was attracting more shoppers to the downtown, as had been hoped, and the parking lot was generally busy.
“For us it’s horrible,” said Boekhorst. “But I’m just hoping our people got the big message – if you shop local, you can keep businesses here.”