While online shopping is taking its toll on department stores, Army & Navy isn’t planning to throw in the white towel anytime soon.
Army and Navy’s New Westminster location is set to reopen on Friday, Oct. 20, after being closed for nearly three months after a small fire in its upstairs office.
“The sprinklers went off and the water ran everywhere through the walls and through the floors, so it has been completely restored and renovated. It’s very exciting, I’m very excited,” said Jacqui Cohen, CEO and president of Army & Navy Department Stores. “Nobody goes out to say ‘I’d love to have a fire happen so I can renovate my store’, but when something happens that’s out of your control, you try and make grape juice out of lemons. That’s what we did.”
Sam Cohen opened his first Army & Navy store in Vancouver in 1919, with a store in New Westminster opening in 1939. A year after Eaton’s closed its store at 502 Columbia St. in 1977, Army & Navy relocated to the space and has remained there ever since.
“There’s lot of beautiful things about it but it needed some renovations,” Cohen said about the 1948/49 building. “We didn’t renovate the structure. We restored the structure, but hopefully when you come you’ll go, ‘Wow, it looks amazing.’ It’s got a fresh, new look.”
Through the decades, New Westminster has been home to many department stores including Eaton’s, Woodward’s and Zellers, all of which have closed their doors. Last week, Sears Canada became the latest casualty in Canadian retail when an Ontario court approved its request to liquidate and close all of its remaining stores in Canada.
“I have such pride in the business that my grandfather Sam created nearly 100 years ago, and in re-opening our New West location, I am continuing our family legacy,” Cohen said. “Despite the challenging retail and online environment, we are determined to retain ‘bricks and mortar’ in a community we have proudly served and that has been good to us for so many years.”
Cohen hopes the community will welcome Army & Navy back to New West with open arms when it reopens this week.
“How many people are going online to Amazon for their Christmas shopping? But you know what? I am committed to the Army & Navy,” she told the Record about the company that has five locations in Western Canada. “I love my family history. I love the fact that I am reopening on Friday. I think that the most interesting thing, if I may say, is I am still investing in retail when everybody else isn’t. Sears and all these companies are just throwing in the white flag, saying ‘I can’t do it, I can’t compete.' I am very proud of our niche.”
Sam Cohen started Army & Navy back in 1919 by selling liquidated stock and surplus goods from the First World War, including 3,178 army boots. His granddaughter was recently reading a document dating back to the opening of the New Westminster location – a document that’s inspired some of the deals shoppers will find when the store reopens on Friday.
“I want to duplicate those prices from those bygone days,” she said. “Obviously, those quantities aren’t there forever, but they are there long enough to hopefully get people to go, ‘Holy smokes.’”
Along with bargains like kids socks and ladies underwear for 10 cents and pillows for 99 cents, the store will have contests and free giveaways all weekend long.
Kendra Johnston, executive director of the Downtown New Westminster Business Improvement Association, is pleased to see the store reopen.
“Army & Navy is a valued and integral part of downtown New West’s history, and its recent temporary closure only reminded us of how important they are to our business community,” she said. “Army & Navy goes beyond being a retail store, but rather a brand that has been a fixture for almost three-quarters of a century within the hub of Western Canada’s oldest city. Downtown New Westminster has seen quite the evolution, and having entered a new era of revitalization in recent years, we look forward to continuing to work with Army & Navy as a valued community partner in that revitalization.”
And just how does Army & Navy fit into the changes taking place in downtown New West?
“Today, we are still the Army & Navy department store. I don’t know what the future holds, to be honest with you. As of today and for the next few years, we are running our department store in that location,” Cohen said. “I am well aware of the prime real estate that my stores occupy, not just in New Westminster but certainly in the Downtown Eastside, as well as Edmonton on Whyte Avenue and in Calgary. I am very lucky that my grandfather had such vision. In the meantime, I’m in retail. It’s business as usual.”