Patricia Persofsky is sitting near one of the entrances to the Sears store in Toronto's Fairview Mall with her dog, Oakley.
"I come here because they have a Lush store. That's what brings me here," she said, adding that she visits the location about once a month and takes two buses to get there.
Sears Canada Inc. is counting on customers such as Ms. Persofsky as it embarks on the most dramatic chapter of a years-long reinvention effort. While the Fairview store isn't slated to be closed any time soon, shoppers on Thursday were aware of the news of the day that 20 full stores such as this one will be shuttered along with 39 other specialty locations and outlets, and 2,900 employees put out of work – a key moment in Sears' long-running effort to turn things around in a shifting retail landscape.
Ms. Persofsky said she heard about the stores being closed on the radio Thursday morning and suspects it is online retailers such as Amazon that are killing department stores. She admitted that,while she prefers the experience of going to a brick-and-mortar location, she has started shopping at Amazon, too, for items such as Oakley's pee pads.
"I like department stores. I like their policies. You can always bring [purchases] back."
A woman holding a few hangers' worth of clothes who preferred to go by Malina recalled shopping at the Sears at Toronto's Yorkdale Shopping Centre before it was closed in 2014. "They had many more locations. One of the biggest locations was at Yorkdale and I'm in the area. Now I have to go out of my way to come to Sears. But, other than that, when I do, the products are good …"
Was she surprised by the news? "A little, but just more sad," she said. "The department stores aren't around any more. It's all boutiques."
Patricia Riach came into the store to buy some socks for her husband whose birthday is coming up next month. After more than 30 years working in retail, Ms. Riach knows all too well what the employees are going through. She spent a few months working on signage for Sears before moving on to other opportunities.
"I noticed through the staff lounge that the morale was going down a bit like it did at the Bay before it picked up and that didn't make me want to stay," she recalled. "It made me think, if I stay with them how long are they going to be around? How long will I be in a job?
"When I heard it on the news [Thursday] morning, I felt for them because these are your sisters and brothers working and you think 'oh my goodness.'
"I shop at Sears and, I confess, Winners and other places. Depends where the sales are," she added.
Ms. Riach held up the socks she found for her husband. "I need some things and I have to do a little hunt so I came in here to that hunt just to support them and keep it in Canada."