Army & Navy is Closing Permanently

Comments 8 by Rebecca Bollwitt

It’s been a Vancouver institution since 1919, and home of the legendary annual shoe sale, but it was announced today that Army & Navy is closing permanently.

1960s Cordova & Carrall. Archives #CVA 780-768

Army & Navy is Closing Permanently

From The Province this morning:

In a statement Saturday, owner Jacqui Cohen said she has made the difficult decision to permanently close after they were forced to shutter all five of their stores and temporarily layoff their staff.

“We had hoped to re-open but the economic challenges of COVID-19 have proven insurmountable,” she said.

“I am full of gratitude for our staff and their years of service, our suppliers with whom we forged decades-long relationships, and of course our loyal customers who were at the heart of our business.”

Cohen noted that at this time last year they were celebrating the centenary of Army & Navy — a company her grandfather started in 1919 — and they were looking forward to the years ahead.

Army & Navy has operated in eight communities in Western Canada for the last 101 years.

Canada’s Original Discount Store

Founder Samuel Joseph Cohen was born in San Francisco in 1897. He came to BC and at 19, he acquired his first stock by buying out a men’s clothing store in Kamloops. He founded Army & Navy as a surplus store on West Hastings in 1919 with his father Jacob Solomon Cohen and brothers Joseph and Henry, eventually owning five stores. Cohen shunned the limelight, telling a reporter, “If I want any advertising, I’ll pay for it.” Army & Navy was cash only, offering “no credit cards, deliveries or fancy store fixtures.” His motto was “Get the goods sold—there’s always more to follow.”
[Source: History of Metropolitan Vancouver by Chuck Davis]

Cohen opened a second store in Regina in the 1800 block of Scarth Street in 1920 and, in 1925, the mail-order headquarters. The first Army and Navy store in Edmonton opened in 1928, north of Jasper Avenue on the west side of 101 Street. Cohen’s brothers, Joseph Cohen of Vancouver and Harry Cohen from Edmonton, joined him in the business.
[Source: Canadian Museum of History]

The New Westminster, BC, store opened in 1939.

During the Depression in Saskatchewan

Cohen was sensitive to the situation of prairie farmers and their need for practical, inexpensive goods. On retiring as manager of the Regina store, Cec Keiser was quoted in The Leader-Post, April 30, 1977: “Sammy was always concerned with the poor people and many of our customers in the 1930s were farm families and those on relief.”
[Source: Canadian Museum of History]

Self-Serve Shoe Department

During the Second World War, Army and Navy was the first store in Western Canada to introduce self-serve shoe departments, with tables dedicated to individual sizes. The retailer became famous for its shoe sales, for which people would line up around an entire city block. Following the war, Army and Navy again carried army surplus goods.
[Source: Canadian Museum of History]

1942 Army and Navy Annex. Archives #CVA 1184-330
1942 Army and Navy Annex. Archives #CVA 1184-330

Cohen said she will be spending the weeks ahead ensuring the women and men who have worked for Army & Navy have their support, and will focus on the philanthropic work of Face the World, an organization she created 30 years ago to support the city’s most vulnerable.

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8 Comments  —  Add a Comment Below

  1. Theresa TurnerSaturday, May 9th, 2020 — 1:05pm PDT

    I would love to see the company start an online store,Very sad to see them go permanently,a reputable business that has been around as long as they have. My Mom always shopped there when we were kids. i shopped there from time to time,loved their Whyte Avenue location in Edmonton

  2. Nadine VegtSaturday, May 9th, 2020 — 1:17pm PDT

    It’s the end of an era for sure. I worked at the New Westminster location 30 years ago. The staff was like a little family.

  3. Jenny Gilliland GiesbrechtSaturday, May 9th, 2020 — 4:53pm PDT

    So sad to hear. My mome worked at the New Westminster location several years ago. I hope you reconsider. Thank you for your service 💖

  4. Terry Mc DonaldSaturday, May 9th, 2020 — 5:07pm PDT

    I worked there from 1980 to 1990 and had many many jobs there. I made ALOT of friends there and still call many of them my friends to this day. It was a wonderful experience.

  5. martin frazerSunday, May 10th, 2020 — 6:44am PDT

    I have fond memories of Army and Navy…..

    When I was in high school many years ago, I decided to skip school…no problem…lots of kids did this.

    But what to do with my time?…..well I went to downtown to Army and Navy to snoop around…so far so good…..right????

    I was looking at a table of clothes…occupied with seeing what offerings there were….WHEN I looked up and saw my mom on the other side of the very same table !!!

    YIKES….I nearly pee’d in my pants….she said “what are you doing here?”….I gave her some lame story that school wasn’t busy that afternoon and they gave me the afternoon off!….Uh huh…….

    I somehow think she didn’t believe me….but nothing was ever said again at all…….I guess we both liked to get a good deal……

    Martin Frazer…Vancouver BC

  6. Josephine FletcherSunday, May 10th, 2020 — 7:39am PDT

    Would it not be lovely if some one took the reins and it carried on as a store you could afford for the people and the planet. Like the old signage.

  7. Edit JeremiasMonday, May 11th, 2020 — 10:28pm PDT

    I loved the their shoe sale. I think I still have some shoes I bought there

  8. Marcia.C.ThomasTuesday, May 12th, 2020 — 11:27am PDT

    is the army and navy going tpo advertise closing out sale on hastings soon

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