The family owned Army & Navy department store chain is closing after more than a century in business.
On Saturday, company CEO and president, Jacqui Cohen, announced the closure of Army and Navy’s five Western Canada locations along with mass layoffs.
“After an incredible 101 years, we have made the difficult decision to permanently close Army & Navy,” said Cohen.
The company has stores in Vancouver, New Westminster, Langley, Calgary and Edmonton.
Cohen, the granddaughter of founder Sam Cohen, said the company had closed its stores and temporarily laid off staff in March due to COVID-19, but they planned to reopen before the challenges of the pandemic proved insurmountable.
“Army & Navy stood alongside Canadians for the country’s highs and lows, but the economic impact of this global pandemic is beyond anything we have experienced,” said Cohen.
“I am full of gratitude for our staff and their years of service, our suppliers with whom we forged decades-long relationships, and of course our loyal customers who were at the heart of our business.”
Caught by surprise
Initially told they were being laid off temporarily, 205 Army & Navy employees have now permanently lost their jobs.
“It’s caught everybody by surprise. I mean we had not too long ago ratified an agreement, and things were looking good. So we’re all a little shocked, and as you can imagine our members are equally as shocked and concerned by the news,” said Ryan Bruce, a representative of the Christian Labour Association of Canada, which represents 83 workers at the Vancouver and New Westminster locations.
Bruce says the union is working with the company to establish fair severance packages for workers and to help them find future employment.
Cohen says she will support staff over the weeks ahead before turning her attention to philanthropic work.
End of an era
At 22 years old, Sam Cohen started selling military surplus out of a small space at 44 West Hastings Street in Vancouver, from which the name Army & Navy was born.
Known for its discount goods and spring shoe sale, the company operated stores across eight communities in B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan over the years.
Jacqui Cohen says her grandfather’s philosophy, “Buy cheap, sell cheap. Pass the deal onto the customer,” was a motto from which she never deviated.
According to the Vancouver Heritage Foundation, Army & Navy is the oldest retailer in the Gastown neighbourhood.
Built in 1889 and taken over by Army & Navy in 1948, the building at 33 West Cordova Street is designated as a protected heritage property by the City of Vancouver.
On the prospect of redeveloping the property or selling it, Cohen says “it’s too early to say, but certainly it will be something that benefits the community.”