The announced sale of Canada’s best-known outdoor equipment retailer, Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC), to Kingswood Capital Management, a Los Angeles-based private equity firm, has sparked widespread discussion across Canada. MEC was founded in 1971 in Vancouver, British Columbia. To be able to shop in the store, customers had to purchase a share in the Co-op at a price of C$5. Membership had many advantages, including the “rock-solid guarantee,” which allowed members to return broken or worn out equipment at virtually any time. At its peak, MEC operated 22 stores across Canada. Most recently, the retail chain faced years of declining sales. The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic had finally intensified the crisis within the company.
The sale to a US investment company was a disappointment for both the staff and the approximately 5 million co-ops, and there was even talk of “betrayal.” CBC News wrote on September 15, the day after the announcement, that within 24 hours more than 10,000 signatures were collected for a petition to stop the sale. The initiator of the petition told the news channel that the decision to privatize MEC would deprive its members of democratic decision-making power and endanger its socially conscious core. Although the sale must be approved by the Supreme Court of British Columbia under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA), it does not require the consent of the shareholders, in this case the co-op owners of MEC. Eric Claus, MEC’s designated new CEO in the case that the acquisition is approved, told CBC News that Kingswood is well aware of what MEC means to its members. Meanwhile, MEC’s board of directors stated that the acquisition would strengthen MEC’s balance sheet, preserve jobs and continue to guarantee members access to authentic advice and quality products at competitive prices.