TORONTO (Reuters) — Employees at Target stores in Canada said they were stunned by the U.S. retailer's decision on Thursday to pull out of Canada, believing business had improved after an admittedly disastrous launch less than two years ago.
"It's a big shock for everyone. I thought it was getting better," said one Toronto Target employee who would only give her first name, Lima, for fear of reprisal from her employer.
"I thought maybe they might close a few of the stores that weren't doing as well. I never thought they'd close them all."
Workers and shoppers alike at a two-story Target store in northeast Toronto expressed dismay at the abrupt end to the shabby chic retailer's Canadian expansion.
"I'm surprised, we're all surprised. I'm surprised they didn't tell us internally first," said another employee, dressed in the standard red sweater and khakis and bulls-eye name tag.
He declined to be identified, saying employees had been told not to talk to the media, but said he'd worked at Target since it opened two years ago and business had improved.
"I thought it was going well; the sales in this store were good," he said, before acknowledging that "stocking was always the problem."
The clean, bright store was well-staffed on the day of the bombshell announcement, but some shelves were empty and others were stocked with a single item for the length of an aisle, suggesting problems with the supply chain remained.
Minneapolis-based Target, the No. 2 discount chain in the United States, had struggled in Canada since its 2013 launch. It faced huge supply chain problems and disappointed shoppers who had eagerly anticipated the retailer's arrival in a market where the discount space had long been dominated by Wal-Mart Stores.
Shoppers said they were saddened by the pull-out.
"My girls will be devastated," said Arlynn Macdermott, 38, a government worker and mother of two school-aged daughters, as she shopped in a houseware aisle.
"But I could see it coming, to be honest. People would always complain about not having enough on the shelves. People's expectations were pretty high."
Shabnan Ara, 30, a mother of two shopping in the children's clothing section, said she didn't want to see Target leave Canada.
"Since it opened I've been shopping, shopping, shopping," she said with a laugh. Asked where she'd turn when the store closed, she sighed.
"Back to Wal-Mart, I guess."