THUNDER BAY — The announcement that Lowe's will close its Thunder Bay outlet in the new year is sad news for the 126 affected workers, but may give a boost to locally-owned hardware and home improvement stores.
That's the perspective of Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce President Charla Robinson.
"It's certainly disappointing for the loss of the jobs there, and losing an anchor tenant at Intercity is a concern, but there's always a positive," Robinson said in an interview Wednesday.
Whenever a big box store closes, it provides an opportunity for others, "like Maier Hardware, and Canadian Tire and Home Hardware," which are all owned locally or operated by local franchisees, she said.
"People will have to shift their shopping, and hopefully that provides an opportunity for some local businesses to maybe pick up some new revenue," Robinson added.
She said Lowe's decision to close 34 underperforming Lowe's and RONA locations across the country is another sign of the changing retail scene.
"We know a lot of folks are doing retail shopping online for household items and those sorts of things. Generally, people don't seem to be buying the way they used to. There's a whole transformation happening in any store environment."
Robinson said big retailers such as Lowe's are looking for locations that can sustain their profit margins.
"A small centre like Thunder Bay, it sounds like it wasn't performing as well as some others. Maybe they felt there was a little too much competition for such a small market here. It's always disappointing to see a chain like that leave town," she said.
Lowe's opened at Intercity Shopping Centre in August 2016, replacing Target which had left the Canadian market.
In January 2018, Sears, the anchor store at the opposite end of the mall, also closed as part of a nationwide shutdown of the chain.
Marshall's now occupies part of the former Sears location, but the mall owners are still looking for tenants for the remaining space.
In a brief, three-line statement late Wednesday afternoon, mall management said "We are disappointed with the news as Lowe's has been a good tenant."
The statement added only that the owners "will re-envision the space to identify the best opportunities for visitors and the community."
Mayor Bill Mauro said his first thoughts went to the workers when he heard the news they will be out of a job at the end of January.
"It's a very difficult time for the employees to get this news as we go into the Christmas season. I hope they can find other opportunities," he said.
Noting Marshall's recent entry into the Thunder Bay market, he said "There's good news and bad news in the employment sector. As a community, you keep doing what you can to create economic vitality within your city,. It's a bit of a ping pong."
Early Wednesday afternoon, Lowe's Canada head office issued a statement: