On Aug. 24, 1999, Eaton's department store in downtown Sudbury announced its final sale. It was going out of business.
The store was part of a mighty chain that had been a part of Canadian families' lives for more than a century.
It was where Canada shopped for shoes, clothes, jewelry, hockey skates, furniture and even food. The company, started by a conservative Scotch-Irish immigrant, was bankrupt.
After years of economic challenges, Eaton's had racked up $300 million of debt and sought bankruptcy protection in 1997. The next year, the company lost $72 million, and in the first quarter of 1999, it lost $37.7 million.
There had not been a business genius in the family since his great-grandfather died, Fred Eaton, who served as Canadian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom from 1991 to 1994, told the media at the time.
Uniquely Canadian, Eaton's once had 200 stores from coast to coast in major cities and in smaller ones, such as Gander, Stratford, Midland and Mission.
Eaton's distributed millions of copies of its mail-order catalogue and was nicknamed "the bible."
"Everything from clothing to farm machinery could be ordered. In addition, homes could be purchased in the form of a small prefabricated house, and many of those original houses ordered through the mail still exist in Canada today…A typical home in the 1910s would cost $900 from the catalogue." *
On a personal note, I worked at an Eaton’s store when I was in high school. I was told the customer is always right.
Eaton's motto was “Goods Satisfactory or Money Refunded.” I remember shoppers returned clothes they had worn and even washed. No questions were asked. On occasion, they did not even need a receipt.
“Business was 'brisk' at Eaton's in Sudbury Wednesday as the retailer began a country-wide liquidation sale that will end with the closing of the chain's 66 stores,” the local newspaper reported Aug. 26, 1999. (Five stores in major cities were operated by Sears until 2002.)
Eighty-five employees at the 125,000–square-foot store in the City Centre Mall (now Elm Place) were given notice. The store locked its doors for good Oct. 15. At one time, the store had as many as 100 full-time and part-time employees.
"It's a very sad day," Eaton's manager told the media. "The staff came in this morning holding their heads high. They had the huge task and responsibility of closing the store."
The last of the store's merchandise was slashed 80 per cent. Store fixtures and even naked mannequins were sold.
The first Eaton's store in Sudbury opened in the former Canadian Department Store (CDS) building in 1949. It was on Durham Street. It moved to the City Centre in 1975.
The old Eaton's elevator located near the Notre Dame entrance to Elm Place is still operational. If you stand there, and close your eyes, you might imagine a shopping adventure.
Vicki Gilhula is a freelance writer in Sudbury. Memory Lane is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.
The Sudbury Star, Rob O'Flanagan, Eaton's closes for the last time:`The staff came in this morning holding their heads high', Oct. 16, 1999