October 11, 2017 3:45 pm
Updated: October 13, 2017 12:15 pm

Sears Canada: The rise and fall of the department store empire

WATCH ABOVE: Sears Canada closure: Here’s how many jobs could be lost, by province


More than 64 years ago, Sears Canada (Simpsons-Sears at the time) opened its first store in Stratford, Ont., and then went on to play a dominant role in the Canadian department store market.

Fast forward to 2017, and the retailer has received court approval to close all its remaining stores across the country after failing to find a “viable” solution to allow it to continue to stay in business.

MAP: Sears Canada locations that could be liquidated and shut down this year

Although Sears Canada has suffered years of financial losses, it wasn’t always this way. The store was a big player in Canada’s retail scene, taking over the T. Eaton Company (Eaton’s), partnering with Martha Stewart Living and becoming a go-to location for appliances.

Simpsons-Sears era

The brand initially started off as a Canadian mail order business in 1952, offering household and fashion items. It was a partnership between the department store chain, Simpsons Limited in Toronto and Sears Roebuck Co. of Chicago.

Geiger counters for measuring home radioactivity levels were available to Canadians at the beginning of the Cold War in the Simpsons-Sears Spring-Summer Catalogue, 1954.

Sears Canada Inc., Glenbow Museum Collection, Calgary

The Simpsons department store was headquartered at Yonge and Queen streets in Toronto. It opened for business in 1872. The store sold items like dry goods, but in order to distinguish itself from other retailers (like Eaton’s), it began distributing flyers to residences in Toronto.

The Simpsons store headquartered at Yonge and Queen Sts. in Toronto.

Graham Bezant/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The goal of the merger was to expand Simpson’s mail-order business, and build a string of Sears stores across the country.

READ MORE: Sears Canada is winning shoppers back — but still losing money

After launching its first store in Ontario, Simpsons-Sears opened a second outlet in Kamloops, B.C., in 1953 and then a third department store in Vancouver a year later.

It then started to spread across Canada.

In 1971, Simpsons-Sears opened a new head office building in downtown Toronto. The company adopted a modified logo displaying the name “Sears” to prevent confusion due to the name similarity between Simpsons Limited and Simpsons-Sears Limited.

Two years later, the company opened its first store under the Sears banner in Mississaugua, Ont.

The Bay takeovers

In 1978, the Hudson’s Bay Company acquired Simpsons and converted many of the department stores into The Bay, including its flagship store in downtown Toronto. The Simpsons-Sears partnership was dissolved.

Sears Canada is born

In 1984 the company formally changed its name to Sears Canada. In 1995 it opened its first Sears Whole furniture store (later renamed to Sears Home) and then launched its e-commerce website in 1998, becoming one of the first Canadian retailers to head online.

TORONTO, ON – JUNE 21 – Stock picture of Sears stores, June 21, 2017. Sears Canada says that its survival is in doubt, liquidity having dried up. (Andrew Francis Wallace/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Andrew Francis Wallace/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Buying Eaton’s

In 1999, Sears Canada bought the bankrupt chain, The T. Eaton Company Ltd., including all of the flagship department stores in coveted locations like the Toronto Eaton Centre. The acquisition included 16 Eaton’s store locations and the “Eaton’s” name. But in 2002, Sears Canada converted the last seven Eaton’s stores (Toronto, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Calgary, Vancouver and Victoria), to Sears stores.

READ MORE: Sears Canada to close 5 stores including Eaton Centre flagship location

Sears Canada Catalogue, 2003.

Sears Canada

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Retail hardships

In February 2009, Sears cut 300 jobs, less than one per cent of its workforce at the time, to prepare for a “tough” year in retail. It then began to sell off leases to its store in prime locations. In 2011, the company’s CEO, Calvin McDonald, abruptly stepped down.

READ MORE: Sears Canada looking for new CEO again

In August 2016, Sears Canada tried to rebrand its logo for the first time in 32 years by adding a maple leaf. The company also partnered with comedian-actor, Mike Myers (whose brother worked at Sears Canada for 32 years) and released an ad that played up the connection.

WATCH: Comedian Mike Myers featured in new Sears Canada ad with his brother

But the rebranding didn’t work.

On June 22, 2017, the retailer was granted court protection from creditors and announced plans to close 59 locations across the country and cut approximately 2,900 jobs under a court-supervised restructuring. In July, liquidation sales at 54 locations started, with prices discounted by 20 to 50 per cent.

READ MORE: Sears Canada slashing about 2,900 jobs, closing 59 locations across country

Then on Oct, 10, Sears Canada said it was seeking court approval to liquidate roughly 130 remaining stores, leaving around 12,000 employees without a job.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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