Wish­ing well runs dry for Sears with clo­sures

The Intelligencer (Belleville) - - FRONT PAGE - TIM MEEKS

The cre­ator of the Wish Book, a Christ­mas cat­a­logue that for 83 years pro­vided count­less dreams for chil­dren across Canada, has reached its fi­nal chap­ter — Chap­ter 11.

Sears Canada Inc. has de­cided to shut its doors and is seek­ing ap­proval to liq­ui­date its roughly 130 re­main­ing stores, in­clud­ing its Belleville lo­ca­tion — leav­ing an­other 12,000 em­ploy­ees across the coun­try with­out a job.

The em­bat­tled re­tailer, which sought pro­tec­tion from its cred­i­tors in June, said Tues­day it had failed to find a buyer that would al­low it to con­tinue as a going con­cern.

The court over­see­ing Sears Canada’s op­er­a­tions is set to hear a mo­tion Fri­day seek­ing ap­proval for the liq­ui­da­tion and wind down of the busi­ness.

“The com­pany deeply re­grets this pend­ing out­come and the re­sult­ing loss of jobs and store clo­sures,” Sears Canada said in a state­ment on Tues­day.

Lo­cally, close to 600 em­ploy­ees at the Dis­tri­bu­tion Cen­tre at 500 Col­lege St., Belleville, and the Quinte Mall re­tail out­let will be los­ing their jobs. To sup­port Sears em­ploy­ees lo­cally, the Cana­dian Men­tal Health As­so­ci­a­tion (CMHA) at 41 Oc­tavia St., Belleville (south en­trance, lower level) is host­ing Cof­fee, Con­ver­sa­tion and Care drop in start­ing Novem­ber 4 from 10 a.m. to noon. All Sears em­ploy­ees are in­vited to drop in for cof­fee, con­ver­sa­tion and care at the CMHA Hope Cen­tre. Staff will be avail­able to lis­ten and sup­port, and pro­vide re­sources to try to re­duce the anx­i­ety of job loss. There is no cost to take part, and no reg­is­tra­tion. For fur­ther in­for­ma­tion call 613969-8874 .

Mean­while, in a state­ment on the Sears liq­ui­da­tion, Prince Ed­ward Hast­ings MPP Todd Smith said “for many years, Sears has been a ma­jor part of the Quinte com­mu­nity. Whether as a first job or a life­time ca­reer, many fam­i­lies have put food on their ta­ble be­cause they worked at Sears. This an­nounce­ment marks the end of an era.”

“At this time, our hearts go out to the fam­i­lies that will be most af­fected by this news,” stated Smith. “Work­ers who have ded­i­cated years of their lives to the com­pany need to be as­sisted going for­ward. Re­cent con­cerns raised about the Sears pen­sion plan and hard­ship fund need to be ad­dressed in or­der to en­sure that com­mit­ments made to long time Sears em­ploy­ees are hon­oured.”

Smith said he will be writ­ing the Hon. Brad Duguid, On­tario’s Min­is­ter of Eco­nomic Devel­op­ment to en­sure suf­fi­cient sup­ports are made avail­able by the On­tario gov­ern­ment to as­sist in job search and re­train­ing for Sears em­ploy­ees who will now be look­ing for work.

“We are a re­silient com­mu­nity but we are also a com­pas­sion­ate com­mu­nity. At this time, many of us will have friends, neigh­bours and fam­ily mem­bers who will need to lean on us,” stated Smith. “We have many great lo­cal busi­nesses that I know will step up to fill the hole that this leaves in our com­mu­nity. In the mean­time, my of­fice will be there to sup­port all those af­fected.”

Last week, Sears re­ceived a re­vised bid from a buyer group led by its ex­ec­u­tive chair­man, Bran­don Stranzl, to buy the busi­ness and keep it op­er­at­ing. It was the lat­est move in a weeks-long dis­cus­sion process after Stranzl stepped away from his role to launch the bid.

How­ever, on Tues­day, the re­tailer said that “fol­low­ing ex­haus­tive ef­forts, no vi­able trans­ac­tion” was re­ceived.

Sears Canada cur­rently has 74 full depart­ment store lo­ca­tions, eight Sears Home Stores, and roughly 49 Sears Home­town stores, fac­ing clo­sure, ac­cord­ing to com­pany spokesman Joel Shaffer.

The re­tailer cur­rently has ap­prox­i­mately 12,000 em­ploy­ees, three-quar­ters of which are part­time, Shaffer added. Of the roughly 800 em­ploy­ees in Sears Canada’s head of­fice, the vast ma­jor­ity will leave next week, he said.

Sears Canada plans to start the liq­ui­da­tion sales no later than Oct. 19, a process which is ex­pected to con­tinue for 10 to 14 weeks.

How­ever, Su­san Ursel, a lawyer rep­re­sent­ing cur­rent and for­mer Sears Canada em­ploy­ees, says a liq­ui­da­tion would be “ex­tremely detri­men­tal.”

“We are dis­mayed to say the least that this is going in this di­rec­tion,” Ursel said in an in­ter­view. “But we are work­ing, along... with pen­sion rep­re­sen­ta­tive coun­cil, to pur­sue all av­enues pos­si­ble as an al­ter­na­tive to liq­ui­da­tion. So, it ain’t over yet.”

She would say only that they are look­ing at “dif­fer­ent forms of a going con­cern op­er­a­tion.”

Lit­i­ga­tors for a group of lenders who have pro­vided debtorin-pos­ses­sion fi­nanc­ing to Sears Canada to keep it afloat pushed for a liq­ui­da­tion agree­ment to be en­tered into by Oct. 7 at the lat­est. The lenders pushed for ap­proval no later than Oct. 13, in or­der to liq­ui­date be­fore the cru­cial holiday sea­son and maximize value.

Sears Canada has been op­er­at­ing un­der the Companies’ Cred­i­tors Ar­range­ment Act since June, but had been strug­gling for years as con­sumers grav­i­tated to­wards e-com­merce and away from big depart­ment stores.

IN­TEL­LI­GENCER FILE PHOTO

Ap­prox­i­mately 600 jobs will be lost, lo­cally, as Sears will be clos­ing both its re­tail store at Quinte Mall and its dis­tri­bu­tion cen­tre. Sears an­nounced this week it will liq­ui­date its roughly 130 stores across Canada.

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