TORONTO -- The owner of greeting card retailers including Carlton Cards and Papyrus is closing all of its stores in North America, including 76 Canadian locations.

Most of the closures will take place over the next four to six weeks, Schurman Retail Group CEO Dominique Schurman told in a statement.

Another 178 locations will close in the U.S., bringing the total to 254 stores employing approximately 1,400 people.

Schurman said the closures were a "difficult decision" necessitated by the company being unable to "realign our … stores to fit today's shopping environment."

'The closures will not affect the publishing of Carlton Cards or their sale in other stores. Those aspects of the business are handled by a separate company. The Carlton Cards and Papyrus online stores also remain open, although the Papyrus website has been modified to state that all sales are final.

Going-out-of-business sales are underway at physical stores in both Canada and the U.S. There are 59 Carlton Cards locations and 17 Papyrus outlets in Canada, encompassing all provinces except New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

Anyone wishing to continue purchasing Carlton Cards can use the chain's online store locator to find other retailers that sell them.

Carlton Cards and Papyrus are the latest in a seemingly never-ending series of Canadian retail closures. This week alone, fair-trade retailer Ten Thousand Villages announced plans to shutter many of its stores and the owner of apparel store Bench's Canadian operations confirmed to BNN that all 24 locations will be closed. Things Engraved announced earlier this month that it plans to shut all of its stores.

The message that typically accompanies these closures is that even long-tenured chains are having trouble coping with the growth in online shopping, as consumers increasingly opt for convenience over familiar retail brands.

Craig Patterson, founder of industry website Retail Insider, said Wednesday in a telephone interview that he believes the recent announcements from Carlton Cards and others are just the "tip of the iceberg" in what he expects to be a dreadful year for Canadian retail.

"We've seen a real shift about consumer behaviour, and I don't think a lot of retailers have been addressing that," he said.

Patterson said he had recently walked into Carlton Cards and Papyrus stores in downtown Toronto for the first time in many years and found that they were virtually the same as his memories of them.

"A lot of these retailers really haven't changed their retail concepts in the last 10 or 20 years – but society, if you think about it, we've changed a lot," he said.

The Carlton Cards closures will leave Hallmark as the sole remaining dominant player in Canadian greeting card retail. It has 96 stores across the country.

According to market research firm IBISWorld, the Canadian greeting card and other publishing industry, which also includes such items as calendars and postcards, shrank by 4.4 per cent per year between 2014 and 2019.

"Operators in [this] industry have grappled with the advent of paperless substitutes, which have rendered some industry products obsolete," reads an IBISWorld report. The report singles out electronic cards as a growing alternative to the traditional paper offerings; IBISWorld estimates that online greeting card sales in the U.S. rose by 9.3 per cent over the last five years and hit US$714 million in 2019.

The closures will also deal another blow to mid-range shopping malls across Canada. Many chains once ubiquitous in malls outside big cities have gone under in recent years, and replacing them has been a struggle for landlords.

With dozens of additional empty spots about to open up, Patterson said many will likely not be filled.

"New concepts will come in here and there, but there will be vacancies," he said, suggesting that some malls could end up redeveloped or demolished.