Target closure comes as blow for some smaller cities

Closures in Smith Falls, Ont.

The closure of Target's Canadian stores might be a disappointment to some big-city shoppers but it comes as a body blow for some smaller communities across the country.

In Smith Falls, Ont., a community of around 9,000 just south of Ottawa, the announcement is just the latest closure putting people out of work.

Mayor Shawn Pankow said that in the last decade the town has lost the Hershey chocolate factory, Stanley Tools, Shorewood Packaging and the Rideau Regional Centre for the developmentally disabled. That's left more than 1,000 people without jobs.

Target's closure, Pankow said, leaves the town with a huge empty retail space and less choice for shoppers.

"What we end up seeing is more money leaving town and being spent elsewhere,'' he said Thursday. "What major retailer would want to go in there? That's what we have to look at.''

Target Corp. announced Thursday that it will be closing all 133 locations in Canada, putting 17,600 employees out of work. The move comes less than two years after the U.S. retail giant made its foray into Canada by refurbishing old Zellers stores.

Zellers was a mainstay in Smith Falls for more than 30 years and many were relieved when Target announced it would fill the void, Pankow said. Target's struggles in Canada were well-known, but hopes were high the retailer would give it a bit more time to turn a profit, he said.

The news came as a surprise to Rick Chrest.

The mayor of Brandon, Man., a city of about 50,000 west of Winnipeg, said Target's closure is worrying because it is the second major store to close in the city's mall. The grocery store Safeway shut its doors recently after being bought out by the Sobeys chain.

The city doesn't have a Sears or a Hudson's Bay store, which leaves it with dwindling department store options.

"It certainly cuts down the amount of choices there are,'' Chrest said. "The more retail activity we have in Brandon, the more retail offerings, the farther afield it draws people to our city. When you lose one of the attractions ... it has a wee bit of a spinoff on other retailers and services as well.''

Jake Lacourse is most worried about job losses.

The president of North Bay's Chamber of Commerce said 170 jobs will be lost when the Target closes in the northern Ontario city of about 70,000.

"In terms of the retail sector, 170 jobs is significant for our community,'' Lacourse said. "We need to immediately look at what can we do for those 170 (people) and make sure they're well-connected with our employment services.''

But the mayor of Grande Prairie, Alta., isn't worried.

Bill Given said the city of about 60,000 near the British Columbia boundary has a robust retail sector that will bounce back. The city draws on a population base of about 280,000 people from both provinces. The local economy is fuelled by the natural gas and forestry sectors, which haven't been hit as hard by the drop in oil prices.

"It won't surprise me if the space vacated by Target is taken up in relatively short order.''

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