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Sears closing like a ‘death in the family’

A Sears Canada outlet is seen Tuesday, June 13, 2017 in Saint-Eustache, Que. Sears Canada Inc. is applying for court approval to liquidate all of its remaining stores and assets after failing to find a buyer that would allow it to continue as a going concern. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
A Sears Canada outlet is seen Tuesday, June 13, 2017 in Saint-Eustache, Que. Sears Canada Inc. is applying for court approval to liquidate all of its remaining stores and assets after failing to find a buyer that would allow it to continue as a going concern. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

PORT HAWKESBURY, N.S. — The owner of the last remaining Sears store in Cape Breton says its forthcoming closure hits home like a death in the family.

Philip Ryan worked for five years at the business chain in Port Hawkesbury before taking over as an independent operator about 20 years ago.

Ryan said Wednesday that because he and his wife Kim are not Sears employees, they and other Sears Hometown owners have no access to severance and cannot collect regular unemployment insurance benefits.

The Ryans were told by phone that Sears Canada, which had obtained creditor protection back in June, will now shutter its remaining operations.

“It’s very disappointing to put 25 years in and you end up with basically nothing,” said Ryan.

“Like I told my wife today, it’s almost like there was a death in the family because everybody is calling and giving their condolences. When you leave something like this after so many years that’s definitely what you’re going to miss is your customers, and there were a lot of loyal customers.”

Ryan said as recently as two weeks ago, a visiting Sears manager said she was hopeful about the company’s future. The outlet remains under regular operations inside the Port Hawkesbury Shopping Centre, including its catalogue pickup counter and retail space for appliances, lawn and garden, bedding, hot water tanks, vacuums and dehumidifiers. Ryan said customers are still able to place catalogue orders at this time.

“To my knowledge there’s no where else here that sells the wide-range of appliances that we have,” said Ryan.

“We never looked to be millionaires from it but it actually did create a lot of jobs for people in the area. It created jobs for all of my kids through their years in high school and the last one who is going to college works here.”

Ryan said though the store employs two full-time and two part-time staff, that number usually grows to about six or seven during the holiday season. Both in their early 50s, Philip and Kim are unsure if they will risk starting over.

In recent years, Ryan said Port Hawkesbury was seeing a growth in customers, likely due to the closure of several smaller Sears stores. He said a major misstep for the company was the cancellation of its annual Wish Book.

“There were so many people who actually depended on it and even though people are on the Internet, there is still the baby-boomer generation who don’t like ordering or putting an account number online,” he said.

President of the Strait Area Chamber of Commerce, Richie Mann, said the Sears closure is disappointing both for the loss of jobs and retail options.

“It is unfortunate and no doubt it will inconvenience a lot of people,” said Mann.

“Obviously any time anything closes down there will be an impact and we hope the impact on people’s ability to acquire those assets will be minimal but I guess only time will tell what the final impact will be.”

The court overseeing Sears Canada’s operations is expected to hear a motion Friday seeking approval to liquidate roughly 130 remaining stores, leaving approximately 12,000 employees without a job.

 

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