Target (not) acquired

Let’s move on from retailers that stifle communities.

So Target is closing up shop in Canada.

Target stores initially seduced Canadian consumers with low prices and convenience—the characteristics Canadians usually liked about Walmart or Zellers—except it was newer, more exciting and with in-store Starbucks’. But now, Target has decided take a step back — its plan was flawed, it had trouble adjusting to Canadian culture, and things weren’t working out with Canadians as well as hoped. But while 17,600 people losing their jobs is a huge blow to Canadian workers, Canada will be better off without Target in the long run. In fact, Canadian consumers should take this time to examine their retail habits and try to build relationships with stores that foster healthier, prosperous mutually beneficial growth for the community.

Sometimes this is easier said than done. Target is uncomfortably like Walmart and other department stores that exist on the basis of providing consumers with a variety of products in one stop, for low prices. Consumers with various budgets are not only attracted to these low prices, but can sometimes be fully dependent on them to make ends meet. But many consumers are not aware of how and why such stores are able to maintain such low prices. Such information is not exactly the focus of media attention, nor is it anything for the company to be proud of, so it is easy to see how consumers remain ignorant about the negative social impacts of certain retail expansions.

Target: ‘Walmartizing’ your community under a different name

Target entered the Canadian market in March 2012 and found out quickly that their Walmart-like model didn’t work well here. Every business and economic newspaper has since offered their own analyses and theories, focusing on how poorly planned the Canadian launch actually was. This Global News article summarizes seven reasons why Target “struggled to be awesome,” including the fact that the cost of hiring (and firing) people is higher in Canada. It explains that each of Canada’s provincial minimum wages are higher than minimum wages in the United States, so labour costs alone mean that operation costs in Canadian stores would make stores less profitable. From wages, to shorter maternity leave, to the looser employee termination regulations that exist in the US, labour-related costs are clearly a factor in Target’s lack of success in our home and native land.

And indeed, Walmart and Target have a strong anti-union culture. Even if consumers were well informed, local economies have wound up limiting consumers’ ability to make full, free choices, as they must make choices based on limited means and limited access. In the book The Insecure American (in a chapter called “The Age of Walmart”), Jane Collins explains that Walmart is not only “wrapping its neoliberal assault on labour… It is also inverting the mid-twentieth-century relationship between production and consumption.” If a Walmart is opened in a town, you can bet that small businesses will be negatively impacted. Sadly, this has led to many small businesses closing shop all over North America because they cannot afford to remain open.

With less opportunity for success within a small business setting, working people find themselves depending on jobs with larger corporations like Walmart and Target. Because these positions offer some of the lowest pay around, these workers are then only able to afford to shop at places like those where they work. The local economy is smothered, as the new dependency on low department store prices is the very craft on which Walmart, Target and friends depend.

Better off anyway

There probably isn’t a way to soften the blow of 17,600 workers losing their jobs when all Canada’s Target stores close in the next five months. That’s 17,600 more unemployed and underemployed people that represent a growing need for stronger local economies. This cycle I have described is a bit simplified, but not by much.

In fact, it’s been reported that a number of Walmart locations in the US were holding food drives for their own employees. And check out how Target invested in this internal anti-union propaganda video. It intimidatingly repeats that employees have “the right to not sign a union card,” which is only a tactical way of begging them to remain without union representation so they can be manipulated and oppressed more easily.

In her book Collins states, “[S]olving the problem of Wal-Mart will have major implications… it will challenge us to rethink the relationship, not just between firms and their workers, but among corporations, the state, and the citizens who both consume and labor within their enterprise.”

Currently, business reporters predict that many of the soon-to-be-former-Target store spaces will be bought by—you guessed it—Walmart. So there’s no better time than the present to brush up on local businesses, the benefits of buying local, and weigh the options that may be available to you.

Local economies and workforces deserve better than what Target and Walmart offer. So when your budget permits, consider reaching out to local business owners to fulfill a consumer need that you may have previously purchased from Target.

Check out websites and groups for second hand sales and trading. Join or start a community garden. Maybe that independently owned convenience store does carry blackstrap molasses, and maybe the prices at that downtown clothing store are reasonable, especially when there’s a sale.

Imagine the impact on local economies if everyone committed to making this kind of switch for just one product. Imagine what could happen with more!

Editor’s note: If you would like to respond to this or any article on, or if you would like to address an issue we haven’t yet covered, we welcome letters to the editor and consider each of them for publication in our Letters section. You can email yours to: justin at theindependent dot ca. Not all letters will be printed, but all will be read.

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