By year’s end the Sears Hometown store in downtown Terrace will close its doors for good.
The action is the expected result of Sears Canada’s plan to liquidate all its stores and assets, following almost four months of court-approved creditor protection.
In a letter to employees the company said the action is a consequence of today’s changing retail market. But for the franchise owners of the Terrace store, Boota and Diljit Uppal, it’s a cruel irony: forced to close a business that continues to succeed after 17 years of operation.
“We were very good in Terrace and I was happy,” Boota said, “but I don’t have any choice.”
Boota received the directive last Tuesday in a conference call with Sears Canada in Toronto.
The news forced him to lay off one employee but he expects to keep the remaining three part-timers until closing end of December.
Sears Canada is shutting down all of its remaining 130 stores nationwide and will begin liquidation no earlier than today (Oct. 19). Over the next 14 weeks 12,000 people will lose their jobs across Canada.
For the Uppals, it’s been an emotional two weeks. On Sept. 29, when Sears Canada announced it would close 59 stores, Boota was relieved not to find his on the list. But as it became clear no new buyer would take over the failed retail giant, Sears Canada ceded to its demise and ordered the closure the last 130 locations.
Since then the Uppals have received phone calls and emails from customers wishing them well, and even shedding some tears, Boota says. As a relative newcomer to Terrace, the sense of inclusion he’s felt over the years has been greatly appreciated.
“I am not from here; I am a different nationality, but people still supported me here. There are really good comments coming from people. I’d like to say thank you to everyone who has supported us for 17 years.”
The Uppals have not taken their success in Terrace for granted. Locally they have donated refrigerators on multiple occasions to the hospital, food bank, schools and daycares, as well as sponsored the athletic expenses of Terrace hockey player (now U18 Team BC member) Myah Bowal. Overseas, each year they set aside 10 per cent of their business profits to run their own Eye Camp in India, bringing in doctors and clinicians to poor remote villages for anything from general exams to cataract surgeries. Many of their Terrace customers have donated old prescription glasses to the cause. Because the Canadian dollar far out paces the Rupee, the Uppals also use store profits in India to set up pensions for seniors and cover the comparatively low tuition fees for a highly-gifted but direly poor medical student.
“Losing the business is only hurting me because I can’t help people now,” Boota says. “I am very happy being successful for 17 years, but I’m sad my humanitarian work has to stop…when I start my new business I would like to keep helping in the community, in Canada and in India.”
Despite the store’s closure, money for the 18th Eye Camp has already been set aside and Boota is “95 per cent certain” it will continue as planned. The Uppals then plan to have their first family vacation together in 17 years, at which time they’ll decide on their next business venture. Boota says whatever it is, he hopes it will keep them in Terrace.