Nfld. & Labrador

Sears bankruptcy forces Gander franchise out of business, 6 months in

Brandon Mullett's Sears Hometown Store is closing up shop in Gander, even though it just opened in March.

'Closing it all down, it's pretty difficult,' says Brandon Mullett who just moved home from Alberta

Brandon Mullett is the manager and co-owner of the Sears Hometown franchise in Gander. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

The owner and operator of a brand-new Sears store in Gander is wrestling with the impending closure of his business, just six months after it opened its doors.

Gander's Sears Hometown Store, which started operations in late March, is being forced out of business by the bankruptcy and liquidation of Sears Canada's assets. It's one of 49 Hometown stores, which operate primarily in smaller communities across the country.

"It's a little difficult to grasp, you know. We just opened here," said Brandon Mullett, the 25-year-old manager who owns the store with his father, John.

Brandon Mullett, left, hauls a washing machine for Barry Arch. Customers who have ordered merchandise online or by mail will receive their products, says Mullett, but no more shipments of regular merchandise are going to Gander. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Mullett moved back to Newfoundland and Labrador from Edmonton, where he was studying theology.

"It's a few months of putting a lot of energy and effort and money into making this place look the way it is now, and here we are a couple of months later, doing the opposite," he said. "Closing it all down. It's pretty difficult."

Hometown stores are independently owned, but all merchandise inside is owned by Sears Canada which also sets prices. With the chain liquidating its assets, there's no way the Gander operation can remain in its current form.

A disappointing finish

Mullett said his store first heard of the financial difficulties inside the corporation when Sears filed for bankruptcy protection this summer.

"Sears were very encouraging, and they made it seem like things were going to turn around," he said  "They were very hopeful in the way they spoke to us, and unfortunately that was not the case." 

He said he got the news last week that his store, along with the others, would be closing.

"It was a little disheartening, it was a little disappointing and obviously very unfortunate," he said.

'It wasn't fair'

One long-time Sears employee in Newfoundland said she wasn't sure why the Gander location was allowed to open in the first place.

"Three tractor-trailer loads of merchandise in March, and then what, three months after, make the announcement that they are gone into bankruptcy protection? To me it just don't add up," said Sharon Hodder.

"Really, it wasn't fair," she added. "I think they knew. But why they did it, I guess we'll never know the answer."

Sharon Hodder has worked at different Sears Canada stores for eight years. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

A spokesperson for the chain said Sears Canada was expecting a good outcome in the new Gander store.

"When the store opened, it was a business-as-usual time, well before we ever filed for protection," said Vincent Power.

"We anticipated a successful operation in Gander," he said. "We did not expect to be liquidating the business."

On Wednesday, Mullett was clearing out the store, which is still filled with washers, dryers, fridges and couches.

Customers who have placed orders with Sears Canada will still get what they bought, Mullett said, and the storefront will remain open for up to 12 more weeks while everything is cleaned out.

There are still piles of washing machines left at the Sears Hometown Store in Gander. Manager Brandon Mullett is hoping to have it cleared out within three months. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Longtime Sears customer Barry Arch said his thoughts were with employees across the country.

"I feel sorry for all the workers and the retirees that are out of work and losing their benefits," he said. 

"It's unfortunate to see them go under."

Moving on

Mullett said he is lucky to have more opportunities in life, but he's going to focus on his business until it's finished.

He's made a big investment in its success, moving back from Edmonton and leaving his life there behind to work with his father at the franchise.

"I think when you invest a lot of time and money and energy into something that you call your own, it's even harder," he said.

"Obviously getting laid off from a company that you just worked for is difficult, but when you put a lot of energy into something and then it turns around for the [worse] … it's really disheartening and very tough."