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Business: Sears ends 50-year run in Richmond

Real estate deal, not store’s performance, the reason for closure

The doors closed at the Richmond Centre location of Sears department store for the last time Sunday evening, ending a five-decade long relationship with local customers and staff.

The end came a few days earlier than the scheduled last day on Feb. 28.

“Our staff did such a good job selling the remaining stock in the store that we decided to shut things down a little earlier than planned,” said Brian Stone, who was brought in as store manager in the last four months to oversee the wind down. “Our staff has been very professional right down to the end. But there certainly were some tears and hugs when the doors were closed Sunday.”

In fact, the store’s closing has nothing to do with the Richmond location’s performance over the years.

According Sears Canada officials, it was a profitable location. But it was included with four other stores involved in a real estate transaction made public at the end of October 2013 that provided Sears — which has been downsizing and liquidating assets as part of a financial restructuring plan — with a lump sum to terminate the lease earlier than originally agreed.

“That entire transaction was for a sum that would have taken years and years to make in profit if we had decided to instead keep the store operating,” said Sears spokesman Vincent Power in an email from the chain’s corporate headquarters in Toronto.

The closure means the end of about 150 local jobs. But Stone, who also oversaw the closure of the Sears store in Downtown Vancouver, said virtually all of those employees who wanted to stay with the company were transferred to other stores.

The original Sears department store opened at Richmond Square on Sept. 10, 1964. In 1989, when Richmond Square and Richmond Centre amalgamated to become the present day Richmond Centre, Sears was relocated to the south end of the mall.

On Monday, the upper floor of the 110,000-square-foot store was virtually empty, except for some fixtures that had labelled to be shipped to other Sears stores.

In the former tool section, a wall was plastered with photos of staff who had attended a number of gatherings held in the past weeks to celebrate the store’s long run.

One current worker who has been with the chain for 41 years said he was sad to see it go.

“I started with Sears when I was 18,” said Wayne Ireland, who began his career in the automotive department at the Metrotown location in Burnaby and in 1985 switched to the Richmond store.

Ireland said his fondest memories were of the people he’s worked with over the years.

“It’s been a great place to work. Everyone was so nice and friendly,” said Ireland who will continue to work at the Sears Home Store in east Richmond. “It’s sad to see it come to an end. But I’ve had to work on other stores that have closed.

“I was the last one out of the old store in 1989 when they moved down to this end of the mall.”

Another long-time local Sears employee, Anne Armitage, said she was thankful the company kept ties with retired staff members as the store wound down.

“They had a wonderful dinner for the retirees in the store last Tuesday,” said Armitage who worked in a number of departments from the early 1970s until 1996. 

Armitage recalled how the store was a fixture in the community over the years and evolved over the decades.

“I remember being there when everything (sales) went electronic,” she said. “That was quite a change. So, too was the big move to the other end of the mall where we expanded to two storeys. All lot of planing went into that.”

With Sears now officially closed speculation continues as to what will replace it.

On Monday, Richmond Centre’s general manager, Shelia Luft, remained tight-lipped about the future of the site.

“At this time we do not have any announcements to make,” said Luft in an email.

One of the upmarket department stores from south of the border that has invested in six Canadian locations — including the old Downtown Vancouver site occupied by Sears — is Seattle-based Nordstrom.

But officials there said there was no announcement linking them to the Richmond Centre site.

“But we are always on the lookout for great locations for our stores,” said company spokesman John Bailey.

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