British Columbia

After 101 years in business, Army & Navy department stores to permanently close

The family owned Army & Navy department store chain is closing after more than a century in business.

5 locations across B.C. and Alberta to stay closed following temporary closures in March due to COVID-19

Army & Navy announced Saturday that it is permanently closing its five stores in Western Canada. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The family owned Army & Navy department store chain is closing after more than a century in business.

On Saturday, company CEO and president, Jacqui Cohen, announced the closure of Army and Navy's five Western Canada locations along with mass layoffs. 

"After an incredible 101 years, we have made the difficult decision to permanently close Army & Navy," said Cohen. 

The company has stores in Vancouver, New Westminster, Langley, Calgary and Edmonton.

Army & Navy CEO and president Jacqui Cohen, pictured last May at the store's annual shoe sale, announced Saturday that the chain's five stores will not reopen. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Cohen, the granddaughter of founder Sam Cohen, said the company had closed its stores and temporarily laid off staff in March due to COVID-19, but they planned to reopen before the challenges of the pandemic proved insurmountable. 

"Army & Navy stood alongside Canadians for the country's highs and lows, but the economic impact of this global pandemic is beyond anything we have experienced," said Cohen.

"I am full of gratitude for our staff and their years of service, our suppliers with whom we forged decades-long relationships, and of course our loyal customers who were at the heart of our business." 

Customers flood an Army & Navy store in the late 1960's during one of its spring shoe sales. (Army & Navy)

Caught by surprise

Initially told they were being laid off temporarily, 205 Army & Navy employees have now permanently lost their jobs.

"It's caught everybody by surprise. I mean we had not too long ago ratified an agreement, and things were looking good. So we're all a little shocked, and as you can imagine our members are equally as shocked and concerned by the news," said Ryan Bruce, a representative of the Christian Labour Association of Canada, which represents 83 workers at the Vancouver and New Westminster locations.

Army & Navy spread across Canada's western provinces, including a store in Regina as shown in this undated photo. (Army & Navy)

Bruce says the union is working with the company to establish fair severance packages for workers and to help them find future employment. 

Cohen says she will support staff over the weeks ahead before turning her attention to philanthropic work. 

End of an era

At 22 years old, Sam Cohen started selling military surplus out of a small space at 44 West Hastings Street in Vancouver, from which the name Army & Navy was born. 

Known for its discount goods and spring shoe sale, the company operated stores across eight communities in B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan over the years. 

Samuel 'Sam' Cohen, the founder of Army & Navy, opened his first store in Vancouver in 1919. (Army & Navy)

Jacqui Cohen says her grandfather's philosophy, "Buy cheap, sell cheap. Pass the deal onto the customer," was a motto from which she never deviated. 

According to the Vancouver Heritage Foundation, Army & Navy is the oldest retailer in the Gastown neighbourhood. 

Built in 1889 and taken over by Army & Navy in 1948, the building at 33 West Cordova Street is designated as a protected heritage property by the City of Vancouver.

On the prospect of redeveloping the property or selling it, Cohen says "it's too early to say, but certainly it will be something that benefits the community."

The Army & Navy's footprint seen from the corner of West Hastings Street and Carrall Street in Vancouver in 1966. (Army & Navy)


Cory Correia

Associate Producer and Video Journalist

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