BELLEVILLE, (07/16/13) The downtown Belleville GT Express will be closing it’s doors on September 27 of this year. Many local shoppers said they are displeased with the news. Dave Smith, an avid biker and GT shopper, is concerned about where locals, especially the elderly, will get their groceries and other basic needs. He says the convenience is being taken away along with the store.
By Alisa Howlett
Dave Smith is among the many local shoppers scrambling to find a new place to shop in downtown Belleville.
“I am shocked, absolutely shocked because this is the only place downtown where people can get a few groceries, [especially] if they’re elderly,” Smith said, after first hearing the GT Express store downtown in Belleville will be closing this fall.
The GT Express store, located in the downtown core on Front Street, will be officially closing on September 27
The reasons for the future closure are unknown at this point. Employees found out last week. It is also unknown how many employees will be looking for new jobs.
“We have 10 staff that were notified of this decision. Our staff were asked if they would like to work at another Giant Tiger location, and where possible we are making arrangements for that to happen,” said Alison Scarlett, spokesperson with Giant Tiger Stores Limited.
Smith, who is in his 70s and an avid cyclist, said he can only speculate why the store is closing. Regardless of the reasons why, he said the corporation doesn’t have the towns’ best interest in mind.
“People who are in wheelchairs or have mobility assistance problems, all of these factors are not taken into account by corporate head office,” he said.
Smith said the location is what brought him there so often. He is now in search of a new store.
“The other Giant Tiger is too far away from the downtown and Dewe’s is too far away in the east end, this is central. I am shocked. Oh my goodness, what are we going to do? We should have a protest,” he said.
Paul Walt is one of many GT Express shoppers. He goes there weekly, primarily for groceries. He uses a cane for back problems and is numb from the waist down most days. Driving is nearly impossible for him. He is disappointed to see the store go, he said.
“It means I guess I’ve got to run out to Walmart because they’re the only other game in town now. It’s a pain and there’s a lot of days where I can’t drive,” he said.
He is also concerned about the elderly in the area.
“There’s a lot of seniors that live down in the downtown area. This is a very convenient store for them. It’s going to put them in a lot of hardships too,” he said.
Many of the shoppers are regulars and go there for the fresh produce.
“I come downtown more often on market days more than other days. I always stop into Giant Tiger because there is a lot of selection and it’s reasonably priced,” said Fran Clark, a loyal GT shopper.
There is another Giant Tiger location in the city on Sidney Street. The location differs from the GT Express store. GT Express stores are smaller and specialize in grocery and basic needs. Downtown frequenters are not the only ones who will be affected by the store closure. Local restaurants will suffer as well, said Debbie Thomson, a server at Debbie’s Restaurant close to the store.
“It’s going to be completely inconvenient for us, being a restaurant that serves fresh food. Ice, those kind of staples that are easy to run out of, and we need them immediately,” she said. “We are half a block down from the Giant Tiger so I go there, we probably use Giant Tiger four times a week. You know, we’re out of tomatoes, or we’re out of orange juice, or chocolate milk.”
Thomson also does personal shopping at GT Express and serves many GT Express shoppers.
“There’s a lot of people that walk around here, the senior citizens place up the street, a lot of our regulars come in here with Giant Tiger bags. I don’t know what they’re going to do,” she said. “People are going to have to do taxis or buses, and it’s a shame. People are set in their ways and it’s like their family neighborhood store.”
Connie Yrjola, owner of Glamour Junkie Jewellery next to GT Express, does not think the future closure of the store will impact her business.
“It’s a shame that it’s closing. It’s not going to have an immediate impact on my sales,” she said.
Yrjola said she might see new people coming into the store because of the close proximity, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will buy anything. Her store and surrounding retail stores carry completely different merchandise than GT Express, she said.
Everyone interviewed agreed they returned to the location not only because of the selection, but because of the friendly employees and atmosphere.
Smith bumped into a fellow cyclist outside the store, and said that it is not uncommon. Darren Cole shops at GT Express daily. He said the store closure is really going to impact the downtown area because it’s the only localized department store.
Scarlett said the decision to close the store was not taken lightly. The final fate of the store was decided based on multiple factors that are unknown to her.