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'Anger, betrayal': Sears staff speak out about demise of the company and their jobs

'It’s been an extremely painful process,' says a Sears manager

Sears Leases 20131029

'We’re really upset. It’s a very terrible Christmas present,' says a Sears Canada manager about the company's plans to shut down. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

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Sears Canada workers are feeling confused and angry after learning on Tuesday that the retailer plans to close its remaining 130 stores.

If Sears gets court approval, it would start liquidating the stores as early as Oct. 19, putting the retailer out of business and about 12,000 employees out of work.

"Many of us feel frustrated, anger, betrayal," a Sears manager told CBC News in an email on Tuesday. He and another employee interviewed asked that we not publish their names because they still work for the retailer and fear retribution.

"People don't know what to do," said the manager about staff at his location. "Many people went home already as they were physically upset and needed some personal space." 

A Sears memo sent to staff Wednesday said workers will lose their jobs as early as within the next few days, but that some will stay on for a few months. It also explained that employees will lose their benefits as soon as they're terminated.

It did not address severance pay, but the manager says he has been told it won't be offered because Sears is insolvent. 

Sears Canada closing store

If Sears gets court approval, it would start liquidating the stores as early as Oct. 19, putting about 12,000 employees out of work. (CBC)

The manager blames Sears' demise on mismanagement by those in charge of the company. "So much wasted money on renos for stores, head office when we were bleeding for cash," he said.

"It's been an extremely painful process to see it all thrown away."

Cash-strapped Sears Canada has been in court-approved creditor protection since June 22. It has already closed 58 stores and laid off more than 3,000 staff without severance. Many workers who remained were hopeful that a current bid to buy the retailer would succeed and save their jobs.

But now it appears that the bid, led by Sears executive chairman Brandon Stranzl, is off the table. According to the employee memo, Stranzl's offer provided "less value than would be derived from a liquidation of Sears Canada assets."

The memo also said it's opting for liquidation now to "take advantage of the coming holiday season."

'Terrible Christmas present'

Another Sears Canada manager told CBC News that he knew the retailer was doomed last week when it got court approval to shut down 10 more department stores, some of which had already been renovated to reflect a modernized Sears.

"It was over. We all knew it but we had to keep our mouths shut," he said. "Those stores were the crown jewels."

Now that Sears intends to close its doors, he said, staff at his location are devastated.

"We're really upset. It's a very terrible Christmas present," he said. "There are people that lived this company. They don't understand how this happened."

Sears Canada employees

'Many of us feel frustrated, anger, betrayal,' a Sears manager told CBC News. (CBC)

Like the other manager we spoke with, he believes Sears Canada met its demise because of mismanagement while the struggling retailer attempted to reinvent itself. Efforts included a new logo, store format, redesigned website and trendy clothing lines.

"It's ludicrous. They just pissed away money and nobody could say anything," said the manager. "I invested a lot of time in this company, and it just seems like no way possible we were going to succeed."

In a staff email sent Tuesday, Sears executive vice-president Becky Penrice offered a different explanation for Sears' misfortune.

"The actions being taken are a reflection on the state of the retail market today," she said.  

Penrice added that she regrets that the retailer has reached this point, and that "this is an extremely sad day for all of us and certainly not the outcome we wanted."

'It's really over'

The news that Sears is closing crushed the hopes of employees still clinging to the notion the retailer could survive, said Zobeida Maharaj. The laid-off senior operations store manager spent 28 years working for Sears in the Toronto area and is in constant contact with current employees.

"They're angry," she said about some of the workers she spoke with on Tuesday after they learned their fate.

"They waited, they hung in. They had that hopeful thing that their stores would probably be saved."

Zobeida Maharaj Sears

Former employee, Zobeida Maharaj says Sears's demise dashed the hopes of workers still clinging to the notion the retailer could survive. (CBC)

But now even Zobeida, who was laid off in March, is having difficulty coming to terms with the demise of Sears.

"You do get upset because you spent most of your adult life in that company and people that you work with become your family," she said.

"It's really over. I'm sad."

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