Another big retailer is looking to fill the void that Target left at Shoppers World Danforth.
But even so, the Target layoffs have rallied community groups to aim beyond retail in the search for better local jobs.
Home improvement chain Lowe’s has agreed to lease the 134,000 square foot space that Target held in the Danforth and Victoria Park shopping plaza until it closed all of its Canadian stores in April.
The deal depends on some legal approvals related to Target’s insolvency, but they should be decided by the end of June.
Up to 200 people lost their jobs when Target shut down its Shoppers World location, and many are hoping to find new jobs at Lowe’s.
It’s a familiar cycle, says Nasima Akter, executive director of the local Bangladeshi-Canadian Community Services (BCS). Akter has met several ex-Target staff who previously worked for Zellers when it was in the same spot.
“It’s disappointing that every time a business comes here, they’re closing, shutting down,” said Akter, listing a suit shop, dollar store, coffee shop, and girls’ clothing store that recently failed in the plaza.
After Target closed, local MP Matthew Kellway called a meeting for community groups involved in employment services, including BCS, WoodGreen Community Services, the Neighbourhood Centre, and Action for Neighbourhood Change.
Kellway had two big questions: what could they do with the Target space if it sat empty, and could they try to improve the local economy?
“There’s a need in this community for more jobs, for better jobs, and better workplaces,” he said, noting that census data show poverty has been increasing in the adjacent Crescent Town and Oakridge neighbourhoods since 1980. In 2011, local unemployment sat at 16 per cent, nearly double the city average.
“If we’re going to knock the unemployment levels down, it’s going to take all of us working in concert, with a very purposeful, deliberate approach to bring work here and make that kind of change.”
The roundtable group has only had a few meetings so far. It doesn’t even have a name yet.
But the effort is welcomed by people like Claire Barcik, director of the Neighbourhood Centre, which runs youth, family, and seniors programs in Crescent Town, Oakridge, and Woodbine-Lumsden.
It started with Target, said Barcik, but the discussion expanded to bigger issues: unemployment, underemployment, and precarious jobs.
She said many finance, IT, and healthcare professionals settle in the area after immigrating to Canada, but can’t find work in their fields.
“Do we want people with those skills working in the retail sector?” she asked. “Short-term, sure, maybe as they improve their language skills. But long-term, what a loss to the economy.”
After a recent meeting, Barcik, Akter and others were asked to come back with some proven strategies for economic development that aren’t already at work in the area.
Barcik highlighted two recent studies, one in Toronto and one in New York City, of six- to 12-month internships that provide newly arrived professionals with on-the-job mentorships.
“Actually getting in the door and getting some on-the-job coaching – those models really seem to have worked,” she said.
Akter suggested a program for small entrepreneurs, noting that the neighbourhood already has many home-based businesses that could expand and command fairer prices if they had more support, and affordable office space.
Working together, with a clear plan for how they share funding, staff, and other resources, Akter said it would be great if the group could secure space in a commercial building.
Even with what is available in existing community hubs, such as AccessPoint on the Danforth, Akter said groups like BCS often have to book rooms outside the area.
“We need more space than we can get,” she said.