Sears enters final days, staff feel relief and sorrow

When the last Saint John customers walk out of Sears on Sunday and the store closes forever, longtime staffers will mark the occasion with a mix of relief and sorrow.

3 days before Saint John location closes doors

Charles Doak started selling carpets for Sears in 1970. 0:43

When the last Saint John customers walk out of Sears on Sunday and the store closes forever, longtime staffers will mark the occasion with a mix of relief and sorrow. 

"The first 30 years, it was just like going home," said 86-year-old Charles Doak, who started selling carpets for Sears in 1970.   

Even when he worked solely on commission, Doak managed to raise five daughters on his income.

Two of those daughters worked for Sears while going through school, and some of his grandchildren, too. 

He said the whole family shopped there, for everything.

"My wife's going to miss it, I tell you."

Doak said he didn't stick around until the end of the liquidation that started in July. 

Instead, he retired about a month ago.   

So he'll say his last goodbyes at a farewell party for staff that starts in a nearby restaurant on Sunday evening, when the last shift comes to an end. 

Last 2 months were difficult

Doak said the liquidation process was stressful for some employees and a handful went out on medical leave. 

He said the discounts weren't that great and customers who expected exceptional bargains found themselves disappointed. 

Kathleen Johnson, whose career at Sears spanned almost three decades, shared similar feelings. 

She says the early years were good and she earned a decent living, moving from automotive to hardware to paints then later, to sewing and vacuums. 

Felt end was near

"I went out with a severance pay," said Johnson, who took a package back in January.

"The feeling was the company was closing down."

Johnson felt morale had been sliding for some time and when the liquidation got underway, "it was down to the flattest, at the bottom."

Johnson said she'll be going to the party Sunday to enjoy the company of old friends who, she expects, will be freed from the stress of having to move the last of the inventory.

Sears, part of the McAllister Place mall in east Saint John, closes on Sunday for good, but pension-related issues for employees still haven't been resolved. (CBC)

As of Sept. 30, Sears will no longer be making special payments to the pension plan to reduce the deficit. 

That's also when health and dental benefits will end, says Ken Eady.

For people on a small pension, that could be an enormous change for them. That could well keep them awake at night.- Ken Eady, SCRG board member

​Eady worked for Sears for 30 years and is now the vice-president of the board of SCRG, a volunteer organization dedicated to the protection of the company pensions and benefits of all Sears Canada retirees and their surviving beneficiaries.

"People who worked for Sears for a long period, and there would be many in Saint John … and [who] were eligible for health and dental benefits and had a group life insurance policy and are receiving a pension, the immediate impact is the loss of health and dental benefits," he said. 

"That will end at the end of this month."

"They can purchase health and dental benefits from others. But the ones that the company was paying for cease at the end of this month.

"For people on a small pension, that could be an enormous change for them. That could well keep them awake at night."

Eady said it's still unknown to what degree the pension plan is under-funded and matters have yet to be resolved under the Companies' Creditor Arrangement Act. 

Pension payments could drop

The pension deficit could result in reductions to pension payments, he said.  

"So for that person, they are worried the pension deficit may be 20, 15 per cent short and that will be taken out of their pocket."

When asked how long it will take to resolve those issues, Eady said it's still unclear. 

There were 71 associates working at the McAllister Place store when Sears announced its exit on June 22, said Sears spokesperson Vincent Power.  

Sears hired another 24 since June on a temporary basis to help with the liquidation process.  

Nine associates applied for jobs at the contact centre and were offered positions, Power said.  
 

Corrections

  • An early version of the story said incorrectly that Sears will no longer make special payments to the pension plan to build up the deficit. In fact, the company is stopping the payments to reduce the deficit.
    Sep 29, 2017 5:13 PM AT