In Vancouver, Canada, hordes of Black Friday shoppers looking for hockey apparel were shocked to discover a Sears store attempting to sell clothing and other merchandise. For years, most shoppers had dismissed the building as an ironic pop architectural art project.
“The employees were as confused as the customers,” said shopper Pierre LaBatt. “They didn’t know anything about the merchandise or how to work the cash registers.” Items for sale included baby chicks, ear trumpets, bust cream, horse buggies, Bibles and sweet spirits of nitre.
“I’d been in there several times over the years and just assumed it was some quirky museum,” said Jennifer Jameson. “Who knew it was a store where you could actually buy things. I went in because my great grandfather used to rave about the women’s brassieres in the Sears catalog.”
Asset-light, member-centric integrated retailer?
In 2015, the last year in which a Sears store was thought to exist, a man claiming to be Sears chairman and CEO Eddie Lampert told Wall Street analysts, “During the quarter we completed many of the objectives we laid out to transform Sears Holdings from a traditional, store-network based retail business model to a more asset-light, member-centric integrated retailer leveraging our Shop Your Way platform.” The unfathomable statement was assumed to be a prank, as Sears had ceased to be a viable business at that point.
While many employees at the store couldn’t believe Sears was no longer in business, others suspected something was amiss. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that Canada would welcome the Sears refugees. He likened them to World War II Japanese soldiers in remote locations who did not learn for decades the war was over.
Social services workers were dispatched to the store to counsel the employees and help guide their integration into modern society. Many Canadian citizens offered the Searsians food and shelter until they could get their lives in order. In the neighboring U.S., Congress quickly passed legislation barring the refugees from entering the country.