My counter ’tis of thee

Sears Canada has been in decline for half a dozen years but the news today that it will be closing its stores in Yorkdale, Square One and maybe Scarborough Town Centre – three of the busiest malls in the Toronto area – mean that the company is finished with Canada. It’s ironic, given that Sears Roebuck & Co. was the first of the U.S. department stores to come here.

It was 1952 when General E. R. Wood, chairman of Sears Roebuck, struck a deal with Edgar Burton, president of Simpson’s, for joint ownership of the two companies’ catalogue and mail-order businesses. The U.S. five-and-dime chains were already here – Woolworth since 1919 and Kresge in 1928 – but the arrival of Sears changed retailing in Canada forever.

The first Simpsons-Sears store opened in Hamilton, Ont., in 1954, followed quickly by six more aimed directly at the market leader, Eaton’s. The Simpsons-Sears catalogue also took on Eaton’s with bigger books and better deals. By 1976 Eaton’s catalog was kaput. By 1999, Eatons was bankrupt and Sears bought nineteen of their stores, including the one in the flagship Eaton Centre. Just another irony in the fire.

Now Sears appears to be pulling out of all major locations across Canada. Last year, Sears closed in Vancouver, Calgary and Ottawa to make way for another U.S. chain, Nordstrom. The Canadian department stores are long gone: Simpsons, Woodwards, The Bay, Zeller’s and Eaton’s. Now we’ve got one U.S. outfit taking over from another. I guess that’s progress of a sort. Canadian ownership has become so thin on the ground that we don’t have anything left to sell.

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