The destruction of the former Sears department store in Orchard Park mall is being viewed by some as evidence of the death of retail.

True, there have been massive closures of bricks-and-mortar stores across North America since 2010. Gap and Banana Republic have closed more than 200 outlets, Michael Kors has shut its doors at 125 locations, and the few Sears and K-Marts left in the U.S. are struggling.

However, the rise of online shopping only accounts for a small percentage of this retail downturn.

Discount shops such as Marshalls, TJ Maxx in the States, and Walmart have shown strong sales growth. On the other end of the spending spectrum, luxury department stores such as Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue continue to expand locations in Canada.

In the middle, you have fast fashion stores such as Zara, H&M, and Forever 21 still performing well.

And many independent boutiques are thriving thanks to those embracing the “shop local” mantra, especially Millennials and Gen Z.

All this confirms a suspicion I’ve had for a few years about the future of fashion.

If you are anything like me, you are becoming increasingly critical about how you spend your clothing budget.

Many are choosing to put as much of their discretionary income as possible toward experiences instead of materials, so what is spent on fashion has to be good value for the money.

For some, this means well-made basics at an un-inflatated price. For others, value might be found in paying a premium for classic designer articles they’ll get years of wear from.

Both these rationales favour the discount and luxury department stores. 

Like treasure hunters, discount shoppers are willing to sort through rack upon rack to find that steal of a deal. And premium shoppers are still visiting high-end chains in order to get their hands on that elusive brand-name item along with coddled service.

What is gone is the middle-ground large retailer offering a little of something for everyone.

Who has the time or inclination to wade through a huge store designed for all ages and styles, without offering either great deals or luxury?

If this trend continues, I suspect we’ll see more closures of fashion chains that don’t cater to specific demographics. Any clothing retailer wanting to succeed in this market has to find its target audience and treat them like gold.

The rise of loyalty programs and incentives is further evidence of this.

So, the end of brick-and-mortar retail if far from coming. When it comes to fashion, most of us still want to touch and feel and try on something before we buy.

But I do think the end of mid-level department-style stores is happening, and it’s sad for those who grew up shopping and working in them.

When I was a kid in the ‘70s and ‘80s, I vividly remember every fall making the pilgrimage to Sears in Orchard Park and Saan in Capri Mall for back-to-school clothes. These memories feel nostalgic now, like trying to recall the world before the Internet and Facebook.

Let’s face it, though, this was also the era of pilly acrylic sweaters and wide collars. 


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About the Author

Marla is best known for her 19-year career in the local charitable sector as a fund development and marketing manager with the Okanagan Regional Library, United Way, UBC Okanagan, and Kelowna Community Resources. 

In 2014, Marla and her husband decided to take a break from the work world, and, four years, later they are still enjoying Okanagan summers, winters in Mexico, and extensive travel. 

Marla has had a life-long passion for fashion, designing her own graduation dress and formal gown for the 1990 Miss Interior competition before age 20.

In 2014, she was named one of nine Style Ambassadors for a year-long marketing campaign at Orchard Park Mall. Her motto is “Life is short...you might as well go through it looking good."

If you have a style question or topic you’d like Marla to cover in this column, contact her at [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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