A small group of eager shoppers waited for the doors to open at Army & Navy's annual shoe sale, but it was a far cry from the throngs that'd become synonymous with the store's annual bargain extravaganza.

Celebrating its 100th anniversary, the West Hastings Street location saw dozens of shoppers perusing the discount footwear, as opposed to the hundreds that had jammed the store in years past.

"It's a struggle, anybody can tell you in retail now you have to work harder, you have to be smarter," said CEO and president Jacqui Cohen.

"So many department stores in Canada are no longer in business," she said, noting that online shopping continues to upend the retail landscape, making it difficult for bricks-and-mortar retailers to compete with massive online companies that often offer free returns.

But she says by streamlining her stores' offerings and tailoring what's for sale at each of the chain's five locations, the company is still viable.

"Now I think it's trendy to buy a deal and we are certainly the king and queen of deal," she said. "I think if you stay the course long enough as we have, then everything comes back to you."

The chain began as a military surplus retailer at its Hastings location, when Cohen's grandfather, Sam, opened the shop with a "no-frills philosophy."

The company says it is proud to be the country's oldest family-owned discount chain, particularly in an era when department stores have become few and far between.

Cohen attributes the company's longevity to the personal connection and repeat business so many people have brought to them over the past 10 decades.

"I would just like to say thank you, Vancouver, thank you everyone for being part of Army and Navy for 100 years."