Sears Canada: The rise and fall of the department store empire
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.
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.
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.
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 goal of the merger was to expand Simpson’s mail-order business, and build a string of Sears stores across the country.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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