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News that Zellers will be leaving the Willow West Mall is still so new to neighbourhood residents that many of them have not even begun to think about what the area will look like without the store.

“I just heard that yesterday,” John Sanka said of the news.

Sanka lives in the Westwood area and shops at all three Zellers stores in Guelph, but he goes to the Willow West location most frequently.

“Personally, I’ll miss it,” said Sanka, noting that the things he used to purchase there, from DVDs to toys to clothes, are not available in one store in the same proximity to his home.

But he was not entirely surprised by the news.

“You look at the cars here, then go to the Wal-Mart parking lot,” he said, noting the availability of parking in the Zellers lot might seem to suggest that the store has been on the decline.

Sanka is not the only one who thinks the advent of Wal-Mart had a hand in the Zellers store’s ultimate closure. “I could see it happening a long time ago,” said Lloyd Joe, another neighbourhood resident. “Their business has been declining ever since the Wal- Mart opened up.”

But unlike Sanka, Joe will not be sad to see the store go. “I’ve never been that much in favour of (Zellers owner) Hudson’s Bay,” he said, adding that the store failed to be competitive and was generally “too expensive.”

For others who live in the area, though, the convenience of being able to shop close to home makes a difference.

“For people who can’t afford a car, this is a great location,” said Chris Darechuk, who lives nearby on Fife Road. “Where is everybody going to go now?”

Darechuk did admit, however, that he and his family had only stopped at the Willow West Mall to pick up a few sale items after having done the majority of their shopping at Wal-Mart.

Also, he wasn’t hoping for a similar department store to replace the Zellers. “I could almost see a Home Sense or a Home Hardware going in,” he said.

Others, including one Zellers employee, mentioned rumours of another discount store occupying the space. “I’ve heard talk of Giant Tiger going in,” said the employee, who preferred not to be named.

She was very upset when she received the news that the store would be closing. “It’s like our second home,” she said.

But her greater concern was limited opportunities for employment in the area, and she said she wouldn’t mind Giant Tiger taking over the space. “Maybe I’d have a chance of getting a job,” she said.

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