TRURO – As Joanne Bonin made her way into Zellers on Saturday morning, she felt as if she was on her way to a funeral.
“It’s like a funeral. The tears started when the doors opened,” said Bonin, a 37-year employee of Zellers in Truro, who lives in Hilden.
Bonin was one of hundreds of people early Saturday who were saddened to see the business, located in the Truro Mall, officially close. The store was open for part of the day until the remainder of the picked-over merchandise was gone. Prices were at least 90 per cent off the original price.
“It’s like leaving a family. I hoped to retire here,” said Bonin, a tear falling down her cheek. “These people have been with me every step of the way. I found out (last year) I had thyroid cancer and they were all there for me. I’m free and clear (health-wise) now.”
The store’s manager, Carol Hoeg, said there were about 150 people lined up at the door by 7 a.m. The business didn’t open until 8 a.m.
“People were making huge purchases. We’ve had lots of hugs today … a Canadian icon is gone,” said Hoeg, of Valley.
One of the customers on Saturday left his home in Sydney shortly after 4 a.m. to ensure he arrived in time for the opening.
Jim Demeyere arrived just before 8 a.m. and left with “at least 20 bags” of merchandise.
“I bought about $5,400 worth of stuff. I bought all the jewelry … about 200 items … and clothing and toys and kids’ games,” said Demeyere, who intended to re-sell the items.
The Sydney Zellers closed a few weeks ago. Demeyere said he and his wife were frequent Zellers shoppers and often checked out the Truro site as well during the past 35 years.
“It’s always been awesome. It’s a shame it’s gone.”
North River’s Karen Wilson has found memories of Zellers. She worked as a teenager in the store when it used to be located where Staples now is.
“It’s sad knowing it’s the last time I’ll shop at Zellers in Truro,” said Wilson. “I liked its prices and variety … I came here every week or two.”
Hilden’s Daphne Neil said it’s that customer loyalty that she will miss. Neil has been an employee of the store for 38 years.
“It’s the customers and staff that I’ll miss the most. Hearing the news just made it feel like (it) took something from you,” Neil said, crying.
“I had difficulty sleeping last night knowing today was the last day,” she said, adding being given notice of the closure in July didn’t help lessen the pain.
“And as it came closer, especially with decreasing merchandise and the end of stock … it hurts.”
Zellers opened in Canada in 1931. The Truro store opened about 50 years ago. It recently had about 70 staff, half of them fulltime. Many local staff members said it was impossible to pick one specific memory that stood out because they have been through so much – marriages, children, death – together that it’s become a family for them.