In the town where I live there sits a unmistakable store front on a main downtown street. It is half a block wide, on top of a basement with its upper stories a solid bricked-in facade. Inside the windows that stretch the length of its first floor there is nothing but empty space. It’s been closed for 30 years, ever since the mall opened on the north side of town. The same or similar buildings stands on some main street in nearly ever city and town in America.
Although often there no longer is a sign, for everyone over the age of thirty, it is instantly recognizable — “that’s the old J.C. Penny store,” people say.
Now, like other main-street icons, Sears, the Bon Marche, Woolworth and maybe some day, Macy’s, it is fading away.
And it is a sad, sad sight today – the relic of a bygone era, the hollow memory now of a time when the country boomed, when optimistic people shopped downtown for its clothing line that was both reliably well-made and economical. In other words, before there were malls.
Moving to the mall could not save it and in these times it is ravaged by on-line shopping.
What to do with the building now has more than one city or town stymied. It’s is too small to be a Walmart and too big for nearly anything else. In my town, there is a developer who would like to renovate it into apartments by adding two more stories to it, and making the the basement into a parking garage and leaving the street-level as retail space, but he wants the city government to subsidize the project so he has no risk. My son, an urban planner, would like to turn it into the city’s much-needed new library. But neither of those plans are moving forward.
JCP – a look at its stock chart below is a picture worth a million words, showing the long steady fall in the past 10 years. There’s that high on the chart at seventy-six dollars and the recent low at 62 cents. It has doubled off that penny-stock low (no pun intended) but that is not some hope springing eternal. That is most likely the familiar sign of last of the shorts closing out their holds. After they are gone there will no buyers left.
And that will be another nail in the coffin of a once-great American commercial era.