80s, 90s, Blog, It Came from Canada — December 19, 2014 10:41 am

It Came From Canada: Zellers Rock City

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There is arguably nothing more Canadian than Zellers, a now defunct department store in Canada. Zellers enjoyed a long tenure of providing discount merchandise to Canadians before being bought out and turned into Targets from 2011-2013.

This was originally going to be an article on a series of advertisements Zellers put out in 1995 that used Donna Summers’ “She Works Hard for the Money”, a song released in 1983. The song has always been associated with discounts in my mind because of these commercials.

Although I could have sworn the song ended with “Because Zellers treats you right,” but I guess not in the ones that are online. Or I just made that up. Either way, I get this stuck in my head on a regular basis, even though these commercials haven’t been on the air since the mid 90s.

The commercial was also available in French, because we care:

So you see, this would have been a pretty short article, and maybe that would have been the smarter move because who has the attention span to read this much about a Canadian department store?

Let’s find out.

bootleg-zellers-002

Zellers was a strange place. I even wrote about a weird Zellers revelation a year ago, when through a YouTube video I discovered that Zellers was selling bootleg Atari carts. Like, really, really bootleg. I won’t spend any more time on that aspect. We’ll delve right into the mascot instead.

Like every good Canadian department store, Zellers had a mascot– a teddy bear aptly named Zeddy, both a nod to the fact that the mascot was a teddy bear and to the last letter of the Canadian alphabet.

zeddy-wheel

Photo Courtesy WayMarking.

When you walked into a Zellers, you were greeted with vending machines full of small crappy toys and candy– all standard fare for a store like this. One thing that really stood out was a big ride: the Zeddy Wheel.

Sometimes these rides were silver with Zeddy’s face on them. Other times they were blue with smaller stickers and a sad looking man trying to fit onto it.

If Zeddy and his ride weren’t enough, there was also Club Z (pronounced Club Zed). Shoppers accrued points throughout the year on purchases and could use those points toward different items in the Club Z catalog. These items included toys, household goods, and even furniture. In fact, my mom cashed in all her Club Z points to buy me a day bed when I was in the fourth grade. She was obsessed with getting me a day bed, thinking it would make my bedroom look more sophisticated. A bed by night, but a dainty couch by day. She was of course in denial about anything looking good because 1.) this bed looked so totally 90s that no one could even handle it (mine even had ceramic balls painted with pink flowers strategically placed on the brass bars at the head and foot) and 2.) I pretty much kept my bedroom in such a state of squalor that Lee once said it looked like a subway (not the sandwich place).

brass-day-bed

The best part was that one of the brass bars near my face while I slept would jingle every time I moved. My parents still have that bed.

Sadly, Club Z was discontinued in the early 2000s and was lumped in with Hudson’s Bay’s HBC Rewards program. I’ve happily paid real money for subsequent beds and have slept more soundly.

zellers-family-restaurant

Zellers also had a restaurant inside of the store (Zellers Family Restaurant), mostly catering to an older crowd, but that didn’t stop me and my mom from eating there almost constantly. Many poutines were had during our shopping excursions. Most of the restaurants were decorated in a 50s diner style, but the one we frequented was much more half-assed. But that was part of its charm.

What remains of Zellers today? There are three locations open (Etobicoke and Ottawa in Ontario and Surrey, British Columbia), but they’re used to get rid of Hudson’s Bay and Home Outfitters merchandise. Some Zellers were turned into Targets, but many others just remain boarded up, a reminder of what once was a behemoth Canadian discount chain.

And of course… the video that inspired me to go on about Zellers for far too long:

Zellers let me hear ya!

As a bonus, apparently a local Zellers had a KISS tribute band perform in the store to promote an exclusive Paul Stanley autographed guitar release. I’m only including this because you cannot make this stuff up. Why did this happen? Why wasn’t I there? There’s so many questions that my trek though Zellers memories has brought up. My only regret in life is that I’m not awkwardly dancing in the above video. One day… one day.

1 Comment

  • Reading through this was like going through a  Zellers Nostalgic Checklist.

    Eating at the Zellers dinner was on my bucket list.  Unfortunalty I will never be able to complete that task as last year both the Zellers locations in Victoria were turned into a Target.

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