News

Sears closures: 122 Niagara jobs to be eliminated

By Armina Ligaya, THE CANADIAN PRESS

Sears at the Pen Centre on Friday October 13, 2017 in St. Catharines, Ont. Karena Walter/St. Catharines Standard/Postmedia Network

Sears at the Pen Centre on Friday October 13, 2017 in St. Catharines, Ont. Karena Walter/St. Catharines Standard/Postmedia Network

Sears Canada has received court approval to proceed with a full liquidation of its remaining stores, signalling the end of an era for a 65-year-old chain that was once a staple at malls across the country.

The closures will impact 122 employees at St. Catharines’ Pen Centre, 21 of whom are full-time workers and 101 part-time.

The Pen Centre Sears has been part of the mall since 1966 when it was built for Simpsons-Sears. It was one of the stores added to the mall during a massive expansion which made the Pen Centre the fourth largest mall in Canada at the time.

Ontario Superior Court heard Friday that after weeks of discussion and a bid from the company’s executive chairman, no viable buyer for Sears has been found. The move will put 12,000 of its employees across the country out of work.

Justice Glenn Hainey approved Sears Canada’s motion to liquidate its remaining 130 stores, and said he was satisfied there was no viable alternative following a months-long saga stemming from the embattled retailer’s decision to seek protection from its creditors in June.

Liquidation could start as early as Oct. 19, and could continue for 10 to 14 weeks, stretching closing sales across the busy holiday shopping period.

Orestes Pasparakis, a lawyer representing court-appointed monitor FTI Consulting Canada, said it supported the liquidation because it did not think there was any other option.

“We recognize that today the order will effectively bring Sears Canada’s 65 years as a national retailer to an end,” he told the court. “Many people have worked hard to understand whether there is a viable alternative. It appears that there is not.”

A buyer group led by Sears Canada executive chairman Brandon Stranzl had been in discussions to purchase the retailer and continue to operate it. Stranzl, who stepped away from his role with the company in August to launch a bid, was in the Toronto courtroom on Friday.

Jeremy Dacks, a lawyer for Sears Canada, told the court Friday the company had remained optimistic and many stakeholders worked “tirelessly around the clock,” but ultimately decided liquidation was the best way forward.

Under the terms of the liquidation agreement, Sears Canada can terminate the agreement if another potential transaction emerges, but will need to pay a break fee and expense reimbursement totalling $4.55 million, the court heard.

Susan Ursel, a lawyer representing current and former employees, told Justice Hainey Friday that they will continue to support discussions towards a potential transaction.

“This company has touched the lives of generations of Canadians,” she told the court.

“For employees and their families, it has been a source of livelihood, community, camaraderie and pride. That we’ve come to this juncture is a source of frustration, anger in some corners, and apprehension for many.”

Sears Canada spokesman Joel Shaffer told Postmedia that most associates will continue to work through the liquidation period, which will run until Jan. 22 at the latest.

“Different stores will take different amounts of time to move all of their merchandise,” he said. “It will vary for each location.”

Online shopping at Sears.ca will cease at some point, though a date has not been announced.

Employees will not receive severance under Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act. He said they will receive working notice, vacation pay and continue to accrue vacation pay as they work through the liquidation period.

As well, employees owned money from the company will be part of the creditor pool.

Sears Canada currently has 74 full department store locations, eight Sears Home Stores, and 49 Sears Hometown stores, facing closure. It currently has approximately 12,000 employees, three-quarters of which are part-time.

That tally doesn’t include the 2,900 job cuts Sears Canada announced in June, when it announced the closure of 20 department store locations, 15 Sears Home stores, 10 Sears Outlet and 14 Sears Hometown locations.

The Pen Centre Sears was the last in Niagara. Welland’s Seaway Mall location closed in September 2015 with a loss of 55 jobs.

— with files from Karena Walter, Standard Staff  kwalter@postmedia.com