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Sears closure could mean large job losses, retail dead space in Windsor

Windsor Star logo Windsor Star 2017-10-12 Trevor Wilhelm, Windsor Star
101117-no_object-237837219-Sears_-_03-W.jpg: A shopper leaves the east exit of Sears at Devonshire Mall on Oct. 11, 2017.© Dax Melmer, Windsor Star A shopper leaves the east exit of Sears at Devonshire Mall on Oct. 11, 2017.

Nearly 180 people will have lost their jobs by the time Sears Canada shutters its two Windsor locations.

The bankrupt company wants the employees, who won’t receive any severance or buyouts, to stay on for the next several months to help sell off merchandise.

The closure of Sears is also potentially a serious problem for Devonshire Mall, which could be left with a massive dead zone in a prime anchor retail space.

“It’s a sad day for Devonshire and its customers, and it’s particularly sad for the employees at Sears,” said Chris Savard, the mall’s general manager. “That was a really strong team and we know that the Windsor store was a good store for Sears, and sadly they got caught up in a bigger challenge. It’s a good team here in Windsor and we’re sad to see them leave.”

Sears Canada announced Tuesday it is seeking court approval to close all of its roughly 130 stores, which would put about 12,000 people out of work. There are 155 employees, including 124 part-time workers, at the full-line Devonshire Mall store. Every one of them will lose their job.

“Unfortunately, no severance is being paid under the CCAA (Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act),” said Joel Shaffer, who works for a communications company on behalf of Sears Canada. “So employees will receive any vacation pay they’re due up to the day they leave and they would become part of the unsecured creditor pool.”

Several employees approached at the mall on Wednesday wouldn’t comment.

Shaffer said the court could give approval Friday to start liquidations. If that happens, he said, the liquidation would start no sooner than Oct. 19 and last 10 to 14 weeks. 

“There’s a range because some stores will liquidate their inventory quicker than others,” said Shaffer. “Most employees will be asked to stay on for the duration of the liquidation.”

The company already announced in June it was closing the Sears Home store on Legacy Park Drive in Windsor. At the time, there were 12 full-time and 12 part-time employees at the store. Shaffer said Wednesday that only one full-time and one part-time employee remained at that location as the operation winds down. 

Sears Canada entered bankruptcy protection in June after a decade of declining sales, saying it could not continue without a new source of financing.

Savard said Devonshire Mall is already looking at how to fill the void that will be left behind when Sears finally shuts down. 

“As most landlords, we’re currently working on a number of replacement options,” said Savard. “But as you can imagine in this particular case, there are a number of little legal hurdles that we need to work through.”

One of the hurdles is the fact that the mall doesn’t actually own the space. It will have to be sold off as part of the bankruptcy proceedings. But Savard said he’s not worried the building will sit empty or boarded up.

“I think there’s enough interest in the mall itself,” he said. “The last number of years here, when you look at our situation, we’re fully leased. Sales are at the highest levels they’ve been in the mall’s history. There’s lots of interest from tenants in Windsor and Devonshire. That’s probably one of the best pieces of real estate in the city of Windsor. So I’m very certain there will be lots of interest in that space.”

He wouldn’t say if the mall plans to buy the space or if the hope is that someone else would buy it.

“I think there’s a number of options available and I’m certainly not going to get into speculation as to what the next number of weeks and months look like,” said Savard.

He did acknowledge that one option to make the large area more attractive could be dividing it into several commercial spaces.

“It’s a big space so it may be challenging to find one single tenant that will take the entire space,” said Savard. “But at this point it’s still early in the game and we’re looking at all of our options.”


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