JCP closing shouldn’t be end for mall

Published 12:06am Sunday, May 4, 2014

By noon Saturday a store with six decades of history in Natchez was reduced to four small racks of clothes and prices dropping by the minute.

J.C. Penney closed its Natchez store Saturday. The retailer came to Natchez in 1954, opening first at what is now known as Kimbrell’s Office Supply, before moving to the Natchez Mall in the 1980s.

It was an inglorious end to their long run in Natchez.

The sign out front said “Up to 90 percent off.”

Inside, however, the staff was trying to push what was left.

“These are now 50 cents,” the clerk said gesturing toward racks containing a diverse assortment — adult bikinis, a single design of newborn pajamas and a few shirts and pants. “Two for a dollar.”

While a handful of people fingered through the ever-dwindling racks, many people appeared to simply be walking through to see the retail institution’s last hours.

The store was sad, but its appearance was no surprise.

J.C. Penney officials announced plans to close 30 underperforming stores across the country in an effort to save money for the company.

At the time the Natchez store employed approximately 55 people.

The once retail giant — an anchor of the Natchez Mall — will be vacant today.

The store was a victim; it seems, of some poor decisions made by the company’s former CEO. The fellow had a vision to retool J.C. Penney into a completely new retail experience with the end of most sales promotions and the concept of making each store effectively have brand stores within the larger store.

The concept either flopped horribly or just wasn’t given enough time to succeed, depending upon whom you ask — Wall Street or the former CEO.

The company’s stock price plummeted after customers seemed to simply not like the new plans. They actually liked shopping during sales promotions.

The company’s mistake was thinking they knew more about their business than their own customers.

Customers responded to the change by shopping elsewhere, leaving the company scratching their heads at the enormous losses, which ran up into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

None of that matters, locally, at least. What matters for Natchez is that we’ve lost a business that employed more than four-dozen.

The loss of J.C. Penney is sad, but it’s not the end of the world.

Up the river in Vicksburg, the J.C. Penney closed up shop in their mall last year. Within a few months, the private mall managers announced plans for its replacement — a Hobby Lobby store.

What ultimately matters isn’t what comes to fill the now vacant space, but that our community realizes the importance of helping the mall recruit another business capable of employing our retail workers.

Our community spends a great deal of time and energy focusing on industrial business development, but perhaps we’d be wise to spend some of that time focusing on the less sexy retail business community.

 

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.