Monday, August 13, 2012


Memories of Zellers

I worked at Zellers in Orillia in 1970, back when there were 2 stores. One, Downtown and the new County Fair Plaza location- which I helped open.
I was Department Head of Cameras and Records.

I didn’t know a thing about cameras- especially the 35’s but I sold them.

Records? Now, that I knew about. I had just finished my radio broadcasting course and was waiting for my first job. I had resumes out but things were quiet except for a job offer way in Northern Ontario.
I said no to that.

So I worked at Zellers. In January of 1971 I got a call from a Radio Station in Midland who basically hired me on the spot. I gave the mandatory notice of two weeks and started my radio career.

However, I have some memories of Zellers- both as an employee and a customer I wish to share. After visiting the Zellers Store that is going out of business to make way for the “All American Target” at Orillia Square, I realized I would miss Zellers and their “Truly Canadian” sell line.
Not many of those left these days.
Governments and business have allowed our Canadian retail giants to go bankrupt or go American.
Remember Eaton’s? Simpsons? Sam the Record Man? K Mart (OK- American based),
Woolworth’s, Metropolitan, Coles, Simpson-Sears and more.

That’s why it’s important to shop at Giant Tiger, The Bay, Canadian Tire, Joe Fresh, Mark’s Work Warehouse, Winners and more to keep these Canadian businesses going. Just because there’s a Yankee-Doodle Flag flying from the mast doesn’t mean it’s the best.

So, memories.

I already told you I worked in the Camera and Record Department. What fun!
Friday nights and Saturdays were wickedly busy. I had my own till too- back in the days when the cash register did NOT tell you how much change to give back to the customer.
I can’t remember if we had CHARGEX yet. Chargex was a credit card that came to be known as VISA. I know there was a Credit Department to pay for items “on time” as it was called. I used to direct customers who were purchasing expensive cameras or lenses to that department.

At Zellers, I got 15 % off store-wide practically on purchases.

I bought my first Colour Television there saving 15%. A Zellers Bradford brand.

My parents bought me a Zellers transistor radio- it was AM only (stop laughing!)  , when I graduated from Broadcasting School. I still have it.
Seafoam green in colour.
Bradford label still attached.
It still works and it still only receives AM signals, of course.
A dinosaur in the radio electronics world!

I was working at Zellers when I got my call to Radio.

I still see Cathy- who I worked with at the new store, around town. She spent an entire career with Zellers and I believe she did quite well.

I still have two standing Santa Clauses I bought at the re-vamped Country Fair store when Tom and I moved back here in 1992.

We still have two quilts we purchase from the lower level of the Downtown Zellers Store.

I remember the rainy day opening of Downtown Zellers. CFOR was there broadcasting from their trailer on the main street right in front of the store. Years later when I worked at CFOR I did remote broadcasts quite frequently at both Zeller’s locations.

I recorded the in-store retail announcements for the County Fair location.

In recent years I would shop at the Zellers in Orillia Square as soon as the shelves were stocked with Christmas Decorations. I love Alfred Sung decorations and I would shop early to get the best selection. Some years I would even get great deals on Boxing Day on all Alfred Sung decorations. Now I don’t know where I’ll be able to buy them.
Maybe The Bay?
However, although we should have a Bay in Orillia- we don’t.

In recent years, I would get my 10% off ever Senior’s Day. The first time I asked for my discount, I had to show my Driver’s Licence- twice!
You have to love that! The checkout lady didn’t believe that I was over 55!
I was 57 at the time!

The Snack Bar called “The Skillet” at the Downtown location made the best toasted western sandwiches with great fries. The Toasted Westerns at the Golden Dragon were equally good but more expensive.
Besides, the Dragon was a “real restaurant”.
The Skillet was a snack bar.
The Dragon made Cherry Cokes.
The Skillet had great strawberry milkshakes.
Ying and Yang.
Apples and Oranges.
Many times you would have to wait for a booth or a stool at the lunch counter. It was worth it. The Skillet with it’s sunny yellow walls decorated with copper fry pans and the words “The Skillet Restaurant” was manned (or womanned!) by slender, older ladies in uniforms and waitress caps which were attached to their heads with bobby pins stuck through hairnets that covered their heads.
A pencil was stuffed behind an ear.
A “Guest Check” tablet to write down orders was stuffed in an apron pocket. While you ate, you could sit and watch people shop.
If you were very lucky you were able to sit in a window booth to watch shoppers scurry on by- especially at Christmas when all of Orillia’s population Christmas-Shopped Downtown. Those were the days when that “other” city to our south didn’t even have a mall insight and their downtown Zellers store was old, out of date and embarrassing to shop at.
Here in Orillia on dark, rainy days, it felt comfortable and cosy eating comfort food at the Zeller’s Skillet. We didn’t call it “comfort food” in the 1960’s…
Just food.

I remember buying my 45 r.p.m. records at the Downtown Zellers. At one time they were 66 cents. I’ll bet if I check in one of my record boxes, I could still find a Zellers price tag affixed to the record sleeve.
The 66 sent price rose over the years to 88 and 99 cents. Usually, still cheaper than the inflated prices at The Hobby and Record Shop or Gordon’s Record Bar just up the street.
However, I liked to record shop at Gordon’s. The owner was friendly and would let me browse as long as I liked. Once, he gave me Neil Diamond’s first Album- Solitary Man, for free!
In Stereo too!
In those days we had the choice when it came to an album purchase.
Mono- which was a buck cheaper than the Stereo version.
I had a Stereo record player, so I opted for the Stereo LP whenever I could afford it!

I can’t remember why he gave me the album- which I still have, for free.
Just being nice I suppose and I was a regular customer after all.
Once, when I went into his shop see if he had the latest Supremes Album in stock, he held it in his hand as I walked through the front entrance.
That was customer service and I was just a kid!

There are many other memories of Zellers like always wondering what the word “Foundations” meant on the wall above the ladies’ department at the Downtown Orillia Store. In December the Christmas Decoration took up a large part of the lower level.
Yes, that Zeller’s store had two levels.
Quite posh for a department store in Downtown Orillia!
Woolworths, Metropolitan and Chainway Department Stores were all on just one level!

I am going to miss going to Zellers. Downtown, Mr. Zeller’s picture hung over the Mississaga Street Entrance for years keeping a stern- yet friendly eye, on day to day business.

I wonder how he would feel today with his namesake store disappearing from our Canadian Business Landscape?

Sad too, I should think.