Granted, the store was more of a venerable institution among retailers a few decades ago. But Sears Canada, in announcing this week that it would be closing 59 stores as it restructures, is suffering a similar fate that has struck other chains that offered a variety of goods and departments under one roof. Consumer habits are changing.
Omens preceded the announcement Thursday. It came after the Ontario Superior Court of Justice granted the department store chain temporary protection from creditors under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act. The company plans to continue operating throughout the restructuring and said it intends to emerge as a leaner, more focused operation better able to compete in the hyper-competitive retail industry.
In the meantime, this move means the loss of about 2,900 jobs, while the company finds a leaner way to operate, finding ways to reduce operating costs and leaving behind some business lines.
New Glasgow had already lost its Sears outlet a year ago. Now those in Truro, Halifax area and elsewhere follow suit.
The public has to wonder what the exit means for the overall retail roster in their communities, since Sears has traditionally been an anchor store in malls across the country. What will it mean for the long-term viability of those meccas for shoppers, as mall owners and managers are left to find businesses in a bid to fill the valuable space.
This latest bid by a large brick-and-mortar retailer to rethink its strategy comes as online shopping apparently gains more and more attraction among consumers. Companies like Amazon continue to expand their offerings – moving into grocery items lately – and providing free shipping on even relatively modest purchases. Costco attracts legions with healthy discounts on dry goods and a wide range of food items.
It’s little wonder that Walmart, the other big kid on the mall block, is making sure its regular merchandise along with an expanded list of offerings are available at their website. Other chains are maintaining the same focus on online sales.
That’s perhaps not precisely a matter of seeing the writing on the wall, but it is thinking a step ahead.
With Sears, the closings will open a floodgate of nostalgia for many. Over the decades, it’s the place where youngsters got their sporting equipment, moms bought them outfits for school, music lovers bought record albums and – at one time at least – householders bought appliances that just seemed to last and last.
But wistful longing after the fact doesn’t keep a retailer strong.
No doubt the pattern will have many up-and-coming businesses thinking long and hard about what they want to invest in a physical store. If the pattern continues, it will have a stark effect on the way our towns and cities look.