Posted by: Manager / Associate Curator | October 27, 2017

Sears Cornwall Square – 1979-2017

In recent months frequently media headlines addressed the economic woes of Sears Canada and its apparent pending national demise; we’d like to pay tribute to those who served us at the Cornwall Square Sears store from October 3, 1979 when the downtown mall opened until October 3, 2017 when this last remaining original Cornwall Square anchor store closed its doors to the public for the last time after exactly 38 years of corporate citizenship at that location.

The creation of Cornwall Square was a key component of the City’s urban renewal efforts under the leadership of Cornwall’s first full-time mayor, the late Gerald Parisien.

The BarnsOur series of articles on the transformation of that neighbourhood in the late 1970s can be viewed at this LINK.

When the $21 million Cornwall Square opened in 1979, the Steinberg supermarket was the other anchor store at the opposite end of the Square. On the first day of business, an estimated 20,000 – 25,000 people visited the new shopping centre.

A series of supermarkets succeeded Steinberg at that location and that area of the Square is home to a large dollar store today. The food court over that store did not exist when the Square first opened for business. In this ad, note the appearance of the Cornwall Canal prior to being filled-in to make way for today’s Lamoureux Park.

This 1980 Cornwall Square Standard-Freeholder newspaper advertisement boasts of several retailers, most of which have faded into Cornwall history.

As for Sears itself, 1953 saw the Robert Simpson Company in Canada and the Sears Roebuck and Co. in the United States join forces to create a new Canadian company – Simpsons-Sears Limited, which, by 1976, grew to be the largest retailer of general merchandise in Canada. In 1978 Simpsons was acquired by a competitor and the Canadian operation further evolved.

Prior to 1979, the company had serviced our community via catalogue outlets, such as the Simpsons-Sears Ltd order office at 261 Pitt Street, 318 Pitt and later at 333 Pitt Street just prior to the Cornwall Square opening. The newspaper ad above is from 1969. At one time a Simpsons order office operated out of 109 Pitt Street.

The exterior appearance of the Cornwall Square Sears store has changed slightly over time, reflecting branding changes …

and the maturation of the area landscaping …

as well as changes in business affiliations.

The company purchased a two page spread in the Standard-Freeholder, introducing their inaugural staff. Starting wage for a sales person / cashier was $3.85 / hour.

This 37 page booklet was an aid to orienting new hires to matters pertaining to H.R., benefits and payroll.

In 2002 the Sears Cornwall Square store underwent several changes in store layout in order to convey a more open and welcoming visage.

On Saturday, October 28, 2017, some 200 former Sears employees gathered for a “Final Bash”.

Some of the event organizers were at the door to greet the party-goers.

The hall was decorated with Sears balloons.

Some enjoyed line dancing …

while others showed a preference for partner dances.

And a few of the men, who were very good sports, volunteered for what turned out to be dressing up as the Village People to perform a rendition of Y-M-C-A.

200 attendance prizes, provided by local businesses, were awarded over the course of the evening.

And the food … what a magnificent feast it was! From appetizers to a variety of salads, sandwiches, hot dishes and decadent desserts, no one should have headed for home hungry.

And, of course, a commemorative cake decorated in Sears blue with the old and new logos was also enjoyed.

Former department manager Robert Regnier sorted through several store photos and advertisements in his quest to create a multi-panel memory board to be enjoyed at the reunion. Pictured above is just one of those panels; the other panels and photos from that event can be viewed at this LINK. Regnier shared some rather impressive figures as to the extent that the Cornwall store impacted the community over the past 38 years. Store associates sold more that $530 Million in goods. The store employed in excess of 2800 workers who collectively earned almost $15.5 Million. Many students were put through college and university with the wages they earned. $9 Million was sent to regional and home office as the store’s share of those payrolls. Additionally, the store paid $55 M for water and electricity, $18 M for rent and fees and another $18 M in municipal taxes. Regnier encouraged his colleagues with these words: “Nobody should feel bad that this store is closed. We should be proud that we worked in this store and that this Sears family made the store what it was.”

Photos such as this one harken back to the days when this store sported a cafeteria-style restaurant, which was also useful for staff meetings and the annual staff Christmas Breakfast prepared by department managers.

The store was known for its various  sales events, such as Santa Mania, Midnight Madness and Tractorama, the latter pictured above.

In 2000 the store got involved in the annual Spring Home and Garden Show in a really big way, booking the full Civic Complex Salons A-B-C in order to exhibit a miniature version of their department store.

It should be no surprise that the staff effort merited the Best Exhibitor award that year.

The Sears Cornwall store may be gone, but it’s unlikely to be forgotten any time soon.

This Museum and Archives is blessed to have been able to obtain a few of the store fixtures.

This includes two display counters for the Museum, some risers, and a storage cabinet …

as well as three desk-toppers which have been re-painted and now serve a useful purpose in the sub-terrain Archives. Recently the former store manager, Carmen, and two of her long-term employees paid us a visit and were pleased to see that elements of their former workplace have found new life. Our thanks also extend to those who so kindly helped us to transport and place the store fixtures in the Wood House.

To those who laboured to keep the store open for as long as it did, we salute you!

UPDATE: January 14, 2018

Today all remaining Sears Canada stores, including 17 in Ontario, also closed their doors for the final time. This truly marks the end of an era and the end of a Canadian institution.

Sears_mall_2018-01-12_webAlthough the mall management has indicated discussions are in progress for possible multiple tenants for the former Cornwall Square Sears store, at this time the store’s mall entrance remains curtained …

Sears_int_2018-01-12_web… and the store is vacant.




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Cornwall Industry

A Cornwall Community Museum Blog

Cornwall Canal and Shipping History

A Cornwall Community Museum Publication

Cornwall Community Museum

In The Wood House at the waterfront, Cornwall, Ontario, Canada

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