J.C. Penney customers expressed dismay over the closure of the local branch, which celebrated its 100th anniversary last April.
J.C. Penney Co. announced the closure of 138 stores on Friday, including Astoria’s and four others in Oregon, as the company adjusts to competition from online and niche retailers. Astoria’s store is expected to start liquidation April 17 and close June 18.
Employees have not been allowed to speak with the news media, but customers shared their memories over the weekend.
“It’s like losing a friend,” said Carla Pitts, who’s been shopping at the downtown store since she moved to Astoria in 1992.
Susan Jackson of Warrenton said she was shocked after hearing of the closure. “I remember sitting down here selling Girl Scout cookies” in grade school about 30 years ago, she said.
Lauren Harms, a shopper at J.C. Penney’s since 1984, said she ran into multiple people Saturday who said they don’t have computers or cars, and thus depend on local downtown retailers like J.C. Penney’s. Harms said she is worried about the fate of the building, which was constructed in 1924 for the retailer and later designated a historic landmark by the city, and for the employees, who she added weren’t notified about the closure until Wednesday.
Bill Garvin of Chinook, Washington, said his family ran across a letter from the 1920s or 1930s from company founder James Cash Penney, who was interested in buying some cows from his uncle Al Gile, a dairy farmer in the area.
“He was interested in the dairy cattle, and he was going to tie it into a meeting to come out and see the new store,” Garvin said.
The company expects the store closures to affect about 5,000 employees nationwide — 13 in Astoria — and has offered about 6,000 eligible employees an early retirement option.
“By coordinating the timing of these two events, we can expect to see a net increase in hiring as the number of full-time associates expected to take advantage of the early retirement incentive will far exceed the number of full-time positions affected by the store closures,” Marvin R. Ellison, chairman and chief executive officer of J.C. Penney, said in a release last month.
Ellison had previously said the store’s footprint was too large. He said the stores that focus on beauty, home refresh and special sizes generated significantly higher sales for J.C. Penney and will drive the continued relevance of the company’s brick-and-mortar portfolio.
The closures will bring J.C. Penney’s down to about 900 locations. Daphne Avila, a spokeswoman for J.C. Penney, said the 138 stores being closed accounted for about 5 percent of the company’s annual sales. About 80 percent of the closures are in smaller communities and in less populated areas, she said.