British Columbia

Why Sears is a 'happy place' for a 21-year-old with autism, and what its loss will mean for his family

With a supportive staff, the department store is one of the few places Kyle Parker can be on his own in public

Andrew Kurjata - CBC News

December 06, 2017

21-year-old Kyle Parker has previously enjoyed shopping at Zellers and Future Shop, both of which have also shut down. (Caroline Parker)

For Kyle Parker and his family, the pending closure of the Sears store in Prince George, B.C,. means more than the loss of a place to shop — it means the loss of one of the few places the 21-year-old can be alone in a public space.

Parker has nonverbal autism and a "deep fascination with washing machines," his mother Caroline Parker told CBC Radio West host Sarah Penton.

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She regularly takes her son to Sears to wander around and enjoy a feeling of independence he doesn't usually get to experience.

Parker said she can let her son out of her sight knowing he can always be found in the appliances section.

"It's one of the few places he can go and walk on his own for a bit," she said. "He's 21, he doesn't want to hang out with mom and dad." 

Kyle Parker at Sears in Prince George after making the first independent purchase of his life. (Caroline Parker)

She also said many staff members know him and are patient with his needs.

"It's his happy place, for lack of a better word," she said.

The importance of Sears to the family was driven home on a recent trip to the store.

First independent purchase

Caroline Parker was having trouble finding her son when she saw him come towards her with bedding supplies, a receipt "a mile long" and "a big grin on his face." 

The smile on his face, and the sense of pride, was just incredible. - Caroline Parker

He had purchased the bedding, but only after many failed attempts — hence the long receipt.

It marked the first instance he had ever bought anything on his own.

"That took somebody a lot of patience," Parker said.

"I was just so appreciative because of the smile on his face, and the sense of pride was just incredible."

She later learned it had actually been three employees who helped her son, something she said was even more impressive given that it is the holiday shopping season and they are dealing with the pending loss of their jobs.

"I'm going to have at least three extra people on the Christmas card list this year," she said.

Parker said the pending closure of Sears will be a blow, but she's hopeful she can find somewhere else her son likes to shop.

Unfortunately, he doesn't have the best track record — previous favourites include Zeller's and Future Shop, both of which preceded Sears in shutting down.

"I'm hoping to steer him towards somewhere that won't close soon," Parker said.

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