Targeted layoffs: Hundreds in Greater Victoria will soon be out of work

MLA Rob Fleming and MP Murray Rankin reach out with employment assistance information for out-of-work Target employees

Two Target locations

Two Target locations

When former Tillicum Centre tenant Kevin Deleeuw heard that Target was moving into the former Zellers storefront in 2013, he willingly held out the nine month renovation period with the hope that the residual foot traffic would be a boon to his business.

Instead, Target’s foray into Canada has been nothing but a bust.

“(Target) brought less traffic than Zellers,” said Deleeuw, who closed shop and now operates his custom billiard table business from home and does mostly online sales. “When I talked to customers, they were disappointed in Target’s stock and prices, and I talked with other stores who suffered because of it.”

Just 18 months after the U.S. big box store entered Canada, Target is pulling the plug on 133 locations across the country due to poor revenue and risk of bankruptcy. Had the store soldiered on in Canada, it wouldn’t have reached profitability until at least 2021, said Target chairman Brian Cornell.

“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 would not confirm the number of employees at its Tillicum Centre store, but a corporate spokesperson said a typical location employs 100 to 150 people, and added that all stores in Canada, including 19 in B.C., will likely be closed within 16 to 20 weeks.

Tillicum Centre is owned and operated by national corporation RioCan, which is losing 26 Target stores across the country, representing 1.9 per cent of RioCan’s annual rent revenue. RioCan deferred comments regarding Target’s closure to a press release, but on its website said the remainder of Target’s Tillicum Centre lease and all other Target leases are guaranteed by Target’s U.S. parent company.

“I don’ t know what’s going to happen,” said Camosun College student Adam Coloumbe, who is employed by Target through subcontractor United Cleaning, and said Target is United’s only contract. “I heard it’s three more months, then I’m not sure what I’ll do.”

Victoria Swan Lake MLA Rob Fleming and Victoria MP Murray Rankin are combining forces to create an information package for the estimated 200 Greater Victoria Target employees soon to be out of work.  Another 100 to 150 employees will soon be unemployed in Nanaimo as well.

“We’re asking Target management for access to the staff so we can help them,” Fleming said. “We want ensure they’re aware of their rights and access to employment insurance and career opportunities.”

New tenants for Tillicum not yet known

Though the vacancy rate is low at Tillicum Centre, it’s not yet known what the mall’s operators will do with the two-storey Target space, which was originally filled by Eaton’s. One of the two satellite restaurants at Tillicum, Kelsey’s Restaurant, is vacant after that chain also folded nationally.

The promise and potential of Tillicum Centre should be a catalyst to make Burnside/Tillicum a vibrant, modern neighbourhood in Saanich, said Rob Wickson, president of the Gorge Tillicum Community Association, who helped complete Saanich’s Tillicum action plan.

“It’s become a suburban mall in an urban setting, so it’s not an ideal use of the space,” Wickson said. “We’re interested in talking to RioCan. We’d love to see housing on the property, more diversity along the edges. It’s even better than Uptown because it has a high population nearby, there’s surplus space, surplus parking. It’s the perfect village for people who want to attend Interurban Camosun College, which is a bike ride or bus ride up the hill.”

RioCan did have plans for residential towers where Montana’s and the former Kelsey’s restaurants are now located, but the property management firm has not yet filed development applications with the District of Saanich.

Two rental buildings, Herons Landing and The Ardea, were recently erected across the street on Tillicum Road and offer 104 bachelor, one, two and three bedroom units. But the overall growth of the neighbourhood is slow, Wickson said.

“We came to Tillicum because it wasn’t too expensive. London Drugs and Zellers brought traffic and that’s why we were there,” said Deleeuw, who lamented Target’s closure. “I think Target employed twice the staff as Zellers. I don’t know what could go in there, but a food court is probably the most ideal use of the Target space if it’s going to be broken up.”

Big box technology store Best Buy suffered a similar fate when it pulled out of its 38,000 square-foot lease at Uptown in January 2013. Renovations are now underway to convert Uptown’s former Best Buy space for new retailers.