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Hudson’s Bay Co. said it is in the process of finalizing long-term leases in the Netherlands and expected to open the first locations in the summer of 2017 under the Hudson’s Bay and Saks Off 5th banners.© Mark Blinch / Reuters

Hudson's Bay Company, North America's oldest retailer, is setting up shop in the Netherlands.

The storied company announced Tuesday it is opening up to 20 stores in the country over the next two years as part of an aggressive European expansion plan.

It marks the first time the iconic Canadian brand, which was founded primarily as a fur trading company in 1670, is making its foray outside the country under the Bay banner.

Hudson's Bay is in the process of finalizing long-term leases, with the first locations expected to be open in the summer of 2017.

Its chairman said Netherlands was an obvious choice for expansion.

"There is a strong affinity to Canadians in the Netherlands," said Richard Baker, who is also the retailer's governor, citing the two countries' Allied relationship during the Second World War.

He said the Toronto-based company saw the opportunity after the Dutch department store V&D (Vroom & Dressmann) declared bankruptcy last year and closed all 60 of their locations. Its demise was blamed on various factors, including losing market share against rivals like H&M and criticism that it lacked identity.

"While we weren't specifically looking at going out of our way to expand into the Netherlands market, what happened became a very unique opportunity," said Baker. "There were both stores available and there was a lack of competition."

The company said it is aiming to have 17 of the new locations run as stand-alone HBC stores and the other three operate under the Saks Off 5th banners. Some of the Saks discount stores will be inside the HBC locations.

It was just last month that Hudson's Bay unveiled a blueprint for a major overseas expansion, starting with plans to open 40 Saks Off 5th discount stores in Germany, beginning next year.

Hudson's Bay, which owns Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor and Hudson's Bay department stores, also bought the largest department retail chain in Germany and Belgium, Galeria Kaufhof, for $3.9-billion last year.

Olivier Van den Bossche, the head of HBC's European business, said the Netherlands expansion is expected to create some 2,500 construction jobs and an equal number of positions in the stores. The total capital investment for the project is pegged at $340-million.

The store openings are part of a nearly $1.5-billion investment HBC plans on pumping into its European properties over the next seven years, including renovations to its Kaufhof stores.

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