Edmontonians disappointed at loss of Army & Navy store

When residents of Old Strathcona walked by the boarded-up windows of the Army & Navy store on Whyte Avenue in recent weeks, many believed it would be a temporary closure.

Like many retail businesses, the chain store that dubbed itself “Canada’s Original Discount Department Store” and was most popularly known for its shoe sales had also shuttered its doors in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

But on Saturday the family-owned company announced it was closing all its five stores in Western Canada due to the pandemic’s economic impact.

Many Edmontonians took to Twitter to share their disappointment at the loss of the fixture in south-central Edmonton 

“Army & Navy won’t be reopening after over 100 years in business. Whyte (Avenue) won’t be the same,” tweeted Scott Rowland.

“That’s awful,” another Twitter user, Brent Jans, wrote. “I shopped there all the time, it was my go to for inexpensive housewares.”

Matt Aquiletti has lived in the area for a decade and had been going to the store ever since he first moved there as a student at the University of Alberta. 

“I was a poor student. I would go there to buy clothing, supplies and a lot of things,” he said. “They were cheap, they were unapologetically cheap.”

Army & Navy celebrates its grand re-opening after a renovation in 1968. The signage has not changed since. (Army & Navy)

The store was an especially great resource to him at the time but he never stopped going. 

“Now I own a condo in the area and I still went there, once every week or once every two weeks, to look around and buy household supplies and such,” he said. 

Aquiletti noticed the boarded up windows a couple weeks into the pandemic during his regular commute to the Tim Hortons on Whyte Avenue. 

“I assumed it was protection, that they were looking to prevent smashed windows and stuff.”

But on Saturday he was disappointed to learn that the store would never open its doors again. 

“I was blown away, that ‘oh my god I cant believe that they are gone.’ I thought they were going to pull through,” he said. 

A pillar of retail

The Vancouver-based company itself was 101 years old but the store building on Whyte Avenue has been there since the 1950s. Prior to that, Edmonton had an Army & Navy store in the city’s downtown that was built in 1928.  

Cherie Klassen, executive director of the Old Strathcona Business Association, said the store was one of three pillars of the community, alongside Prudham’s and United Cycle, that established the retail business district in the area.

“We are definitely saddened by the news. I mean, Army and Navy has been one of the three pillars of retail that started in our community decades ago and so that means we know that it was a tough decision, likely, for them,” she said.

“This is a loss for us.”

Klassen said the pandemic has had an impact on many small businesses in the area. 

“They have all had to either really adjust their business model and adapt. Many have had to make tough decisions of temporarily or permanently closing,” she said. 

Klassen said it was important to keep supporting local businesses as it is tough for many to get through these challenging times.

Although there are no plans for the space yet, Aquiletti hopes the building does not get demolished. He said he is afraid they will change it into something that’s “bland and generic and the street would lose a little bit of its character.”

“So I hope they keep the sign or some vestige of what that building used to be.”

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