In March 1919 Sam Cohen, a native of San Francisco, and his brothers Joe and Harry opened a store at 44 West Hastings Street in Vancouver, B.C. to sell surplus army boots. Originally known as the Liberty store, the name was changed to Army & Navy in 1922, probably to leverage the marketing from the long-established English Army & Navy stores. The store sold military surplus as well as goods from other stores closing down and even advertised its own closing in 1927 as a publicity gimmick, reopening as ‘new and improved’ months later.
Sam bought out his brothers and, in 1938, bought a five-storey building at 27 West Hastings St., turning the original location into a shoe annex. In 1948 he opened a new store on Cordova street and in 1959 bought the adjacent Rex Theatre to tear down the 1913 movie palace for a nondescript expansion. Over the years the business expanded across Western Canada to include stores in New Westminster, Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon and Moose Jaw. The original location became famous for its annual shoe sale, first held in 1949.
Management of the business passed to his son Jack, but a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, necessitated bringing in Garth Kennedy, a non-family member, to help Jack manage the company for three decades. Jack’s son died of a drug overdose in 1978 and his eldest daughter died in a car crash in 1982, leaving his youngest daughter Jacqui to take over the family business, which she did after Jack died in 1995, and Kennedy died in 1998.
The Army and Navy became the longest running department store in Vancouver. However, department stores have been struggling with low profit margins since the 1980s, and even more so since the turn-of-the-century with online shopping. COVID-19 was too much for the business and the Army & Navy stores did not reopen after the quarantine shutdown in March.