Seasoned workers feel the shift in Thunder Bay's retail landscape

As big Thunder Bay stores change ownership, experienced workers in the service industry are dealing with new challenges.

When large retail operations turn over in the city, workers are forced to start anew

Next spring, the Zellers store in Thunder Bay's Intercity Shopping Centre will become a Target store. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

As big Thunder Bay stores change ownership, experienced workers in the service industry are dealing with new challenges.

Wal-Mart Canada has confirmed its County Fair store will open in the city sometime this month and its Arthur street location will open later this fall. The last remaining Zellers will close in early 2013 to make room so Target can open next spring.  

With these retail transformations come job losses.  Although employees can apply for jobs at the new stores, experienced workers often lose their seniority when they go somewhere new.

"A lot of people are displaced, but then they're finding opportunity elsewhere," said Sharon Kovacic of YES Employment Services.

"Unfortunately, now they're starting back at the bottom."

Many long-term employees haven't applied for a job for years, even decades. Now they must adapt to a way of job-searching that is different from what they remember.

"(For) so many front-line positions ... especially in the service sector, you have to apply online," said Madge Richardson, executive director of the North Superior Workforce Planning Board.

"It's not as easy now to stop into an organization, ask to speak to the manager and hand in a resume."

'Scary as hell'

Kovacic said YES Employment Services helps people prepare resumes and submit them online. The store manager for the new County Fair Wal-Mart, Darryl Skinner, said the company offered applicants help with that process at a hiring centre over the summer. 

"It's scary as hell going out into the workforce again because I'm starting fresh," said Malissa Irvine, who has worked just about every job there is at Zellers.

She started working for the store as a teenager. But after almost 26 years, she'll have to leave when Target takes over the Intercity Mall location.

"I'm right back to square one and I feel like I'm a 16-year-old kid again going looking for another job," she said.

But Irvine is determined to stay positive — even if losing her seniority means taking a pay cut.

"You know what, it's still going to pay the bills. [It] might not be as much but at least it's something," she said.

"It's not going to get me anywhere just feeling sorry for myself. As long as I can get a job — which I'm confident I will — [I’ll] go from there."

Irvine said she is considering going back to school and trying a career other than retail. 

Shifting retail landscape

Below, billboards (in red) advertising customer service jobs have popped up all over Thunder Bay. One of the most noticeable shifts in the city's retail landscape is the closure of three Zellers stores. Two locations are already closed (in blue) and will re-open as Wal-Mart stores in Fall 2012. The last Zellers store at Intercity Mall (in yellow) will close in early 2013 and become a Target store. Click on a drop pin for more information.