The last few months have seen the bankruptcy of Sears Canada and the closure of all of its stores, including the one in Red Deer. It was one of a number of very significant changes to the retail sector in our community and across the nation as a whole.
For many decades, Red Deer has been the retail hub of Central Alberta.
During the great boom which followed the end of the Second World War, a number of department store chains opened outlets in Red Deer, joining Eaton’s which first came to Red Deer in 1928 and had opened a large new store on Gaetz Avenue in 1939.
Among the chains which established a presence in Red Deer were Woolworth’s, Kresge’s, Saan, Merit, Stedman’s and Macleod’s. A large boost to the local retail sector came in 1961 when the Hudson’s Bay Co. built a large store on the corner of 49th St. and 49th Ave.
This new store had the added attraction of being the home to Red Deer’s first escalator.
The opening of the Parkland Mall, Red Deer’s first major indoor shopping mall, in November 1970, marked the beginnings of a significant retail presence outside the downtown core.
The major anchor tenant was Woolco, a large American-based discount department store chain established by the F.W. Woolworth Co.
Not surprisingly, in 1975, Woolworth’s closed its more traditional store on Gaetz Avenue in downtown Red Deer after 21 years of operation.
In 1978, Sears, which had previously operated a Simpsons Sears catalogue outlet in the downtown, decided to build a large department store in an expansion to the Parkland Mall.
By 1980, the once mighty Eaton’s found that it had dropped behind Sears, Bay and Woolco in its sales volumes in Red Deer. Consequently, in 1981, Eaton’s moved to a new location as an anchor tenant to the new Bower Place Shopping Centre. Another anchor tenant at the Bower Mall was the Canadian-owned Woodward’s, which opened both a department store and food floor.
With major indoor shopping malls at either end of the City, Red Deer’s downtown retail sector began to suffer. The old Eaton’s store remained vacant until the Bay bought it in 1983 and opened a Furniture Place and Home Store, in addition to its main store, one block to the east.
However, two years later, Zellers, a discount department store chain which had been purchased by the Hudson’s Bay Company, opened in the old Eaton’s location.
Meanwhile, both Merit and Macleod’s closed their Red Deer stores.
Saan Store closed its downtown location and moved to a new building south of Parkland Mall. In 1993, when Woodward’s went bankrupt, the Bay moved into its old location at Bower Mall. The old Bay location downtown then sat empty for more than four years.
A huge change to retail in Red Deer and Canada occurred in 1994 when the powerful American-owned WalMart bought most of the Woolco stores in Canada, including the one in Red Deer.
As many retail analysts predicted, WalMart enjoyed enormous success with its Canadian operations. In 2000, it opened a south-side store while keeping its north location open.
The other department store chains made many changes to meet the new stiff competition. In 1994, Kresge’s closed it popular store on Gaetz Avenue in downtown Red Deer. In 1995, Zellers moved to an addition that had been constructed onto the Bower Mall. In 1999, Field’s moved into a smaller location in downtown Red Deer.
In 1999, Eaton’s went bankrupt.
While some of the old Eaton’s stores across the country were taken over by Sears Canada, the Red Deer store was closed. Although the premises were still relatively new, they were later demolished to make way for a new and larger Zellers store.
Traditional department store chains continued to struggle.
In 2011, Target Canada began acquiring many of the Zellers stores in Canada and took over the Red Deer store in 2013. However, Target’s foray into the Canadian retail sector became an enormous disaster. Operations were shut down in 2015 including the short-lived Red Deer outlet at the Bower Mall.
Meanwhile, a number of strip malls have been built throughout Red Deer. Large big-box retail outlets have also been built, on the south side of the City and in Gasoline Alley.