Shortly before the city’s last two Sears stores shut down, shoppers walked carpets littered with tags as they scanned the remnants of the St. Vital Centre location, a link in what used to be one of the country’s biggest box store chains.
Some bargain hunters didn’t bother to pick up sweaters that dropped as they sorted through mismatched clothing racks. Others tested highlighters on the display cases.
"Save us!" read one message among dozens of doodles.
The store, and the Sears at Kildonan Place, both are closing Monday.
"It looks a mess," said Jake Friesen, a shopper in search of a black Sharpie.
There was no shortage of capless highlighters piled atop the graffiti-covered display, but he couldn’t find a single brand -name marker.
"I guess (Sears staff) don’t care because they’re shutting down, and people are just taking advantage of it," Friesen said. "They just don’t care either."
The trip was Friesen’s last visit to the department store where he spent many Boxing Days browsing appliances and Craftsman tools over the years.
He drove an hour from his home in Steinbach to St. Vital Centre last week. His local Sears shut down months ago.
All Sears Canada stores will be closed by the end of the month, a company spokesman said.
After the company obtained creditor protection in June, Sears Canada announced it would close 49 stores across the country, including the Garden City location, which shut down Oct. 1 and was the first of four Winnipeg stores to close.
By the end of September, the company announced a second round of cuts that would include the flagship Polo Park store, which closed last month. All remaining stores in Canada entered liquidation sales in mid-October.
"The total number of employees at the time the company announced it was going into liquidation was approximately 12,000, most of whom would have been part time," a Sears Canada spokesman said in a statement.
– Jill Chapman
At St. Vital Centre, shoppers couldn’t look in any direction without seeing bold-font signs advertising sales from 60 to 80 per cent off.
Sears Canada’s website states the company had "embarked on a reinvention plan" over the past 18 months, but it turned out the company didn’t have the resources to complete the plan.
"Stores open and close, but this one’s unfortunate," Friesen said. "It was a good store, and they had good products."
He was one of many loyal Sears customers at the mall. Jill Chapman and her boyfriend, who shopped at Sears every time they came to St. Vital Centre, were browsing for birthday gifts and a central vacuum, without luck.
"We’re still looking around, but there’s not a lot left," she said. "It’s slim pickings."
The shelves were empty on the second floor of the department store save for a Starbucks cup here and there. Cardboard boxes were filled with hangers, and there were price tags stuck on fixtures and naked mannequins.
"It’s really sad to see it all packed up like this and empty and kind of dirty and derelict," Chapman said. "It’s one of the last big-box retailers we have in Canada and pretty much our go-to store for appliances and kids’ snowsuits and things like that. They’ve always had really good sales, and we’ve bought lots of stuff here."
"Sad" was the one simple word everyone — older couples, young families and teenage shoppers — used to describe Sears’ closing.
Roaa Elmani, a first-year University of Manitoba student, said while she’s never spent much time shopping in the store, preferring to buy clothes at Ardene, Bluenotes and Stitches, it’s still sad to see it close because it’s been around for so long.
The department store chain has been operating in Canada since 1953.
"It feels like it’s the day after Christmas when there’s wrapping all over the place," she said, looking around at the dirty floor and shelving unit covered in marker.
"I thought it was really cute that people are signing it," she said, adding the signatures are a memorial to the store.
Elmani bought a pack of ballpoint pens and markers, but not before picking up a pink highlighter and bending down to find a blank spot on the display to try it out.
Updated on Monday, January 8, 2018 at 12:30 PM CST: relates stories