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Sears Canada takes gamble on groceries

Toronto-based retailer hopes to run food markets at some of its revamped locations

Sears Canada, which has been struggling with store closures and sagging sales, said Friday it will venture into the grocery business in an effort to lure shoppers.

The Toronto-based retailer said it has signed a partnership with two specialty supermarket operators to run food markets at some of its revamped locations.

The company declined to provide further details. But executive chairman Brandon G. Stranzl said he is confident the agreement will bring customers to Sears more frequently.

"A grocery store, you might go to two or three times a week,'' Stranzl said in an interview. "A department store you might go to once a month ... once a quarter or something.''

The announcement came as Sears Canada reported its third-quarter loss more than doubled from the same time last year.

"We're not, obviously, happy with where the business is financially,'' Stranzl said.

Sears Canada's loss rose to $120.0 million from $53.2 million during the same period last year as revenue declined. That amounted to $1.18 per share, compared with 52 cents per share a year ago.

Quarterly revenue was $625.2 million, down 21.1 per cent compared to the third quarter of 2015, when the company had $792.1 million in revenue.

Same-store sales at Sears Canada those at locations open during the third quarters of 2015 and 2016 _ totalled $507.5 million. That's down from $616.8 million last year when the company had more stores.

Once a mainstay of the Canadian shopping experience, Sears Canada has seen its footprint erode over time.

It operates 211 corporate and hometown stores in the country, down from 306 in the same quarter last year. Most of the closures were franchisee-owned stores in rural areas, said Stranzl.

The company's financial situation won't turn around "overnight,'' he added.

Sears has roots in Canada that date back more than 60 years. It has been attempting to stage a comeback by redesigning its stores, setting aside less square footage for its current merchandise and leaving more space to bring in new partnerships such as the ones it announced Friday.

Other companies such as Walmart and Shoppers Drug Mart have also entered the grocery business in recent years. But Stranzl said he doesn't see the likes of Walmart as a competitor.

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