Going, going, gone: Ottawa's last Zellers closing its doors

The Bells Corners store, one of the discount retailer's two remaining locations in Canada, will shut its doors for good by the end of the month.

Bells Corners location among once-mighty retail chain's last stores

Once a K-Mart, the Bells Corners Zellers has been selling off marked-down Hudson's Bay merchandise since 2014. It will close its doors by the end of January. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Wait, there's still a Zellers in Ottawa? 

Yes, but not for long. 

The Bells Corners Zellers is one of just two remaining stores in Canada. The other is in the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke. Both stores, which are stocked with discounted merchandise from the Bay, are set to close by the end of January.

Staff assist bargain hunters at Zellers in Ottawa on Jan. 6, 2019. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Zed's dead, baby

One shopper browsing the aisles of the Bells Corners Zellers last week described the store as a hidden gem. 

"I don't think they advertised it enough, and maybe they're trying to protect the sales at the Bay," the shopper ventured.

Under pressure from Walmart, Hudson's Bay Company sold most of its Zellers stores to Target, which abruptly shuttered its Canadian stores in 2015. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Zellers, the once-mighty discount department store chain where "the lowest price [was] the law," was established in London, Ont., in 1931. In 1978, the retailer was purchased by Hudson's Bay Company. At the chain's peak in 1999, there were 350 Zellers stores across Canada.

Many Canadians will recall the chain's earworm jingles and slogans — "Only you'll know how little you paid!" — its teddy bear mascot, Zeddy, and collecting Club Z points — always zed, never zee.

But pressure from Walmart sent Zellers into the red by 2006.

In 2011, the Bay reached a roughly $1.8-billion deal to sell the leases of 189 Zellers stores to Target and close the remainder — save for three locations — by March 2013.

Of the three locations, Montreal and Surrey closed in 2014. That same year, the Ottawa location re-opened, leaving it and Toronto store as the sole remaining Zellers stores.

On this day, there were only a handful of shoppers looking for closing out deals at the 100,000-square-foot Bells Corners location. (Stu Mills/CBC)

At the Bells Corners location, where remaining merchandise is being sold off at up to 90 per cent off the lowest ticketed price, another bargain hunter blamed poor management for the chain's demise.

"I used to love to shop here before it was messed.... It was total mismanagement from the very, very beginning."

Shoppers looking to make a final stop at Zellers this month should try to get the store before 10 a.m.

An employee told CBC News on Monday the store starts turning away customers after it reaches capacity shortly after opening.

CBC asked the Hudson's Bay Company how many employees in Ottawa are affected by the Zellers closure. Spokesperson Tiffany Bourré said it is company policy not to reveal staffing levels at individual stores.