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'Surprised and disappointed': Shoppers react to April closing of JC Penney store

Whitney George, left, Mallory Johnston and Grace Babcock walk out of JC Penney in the Quincy Mall after browsing on Wednesday. The store will close in April. | H-W Photo/Michael Kipley
Posted: Jan. 7, 2015 10:03 pm Updated: Jan. 28, 2015 10:11 pm

By STEVE EIGHINGER and DOUG WILSON
Staff Writers | 217-221-3377 | 217-221-3372
seighinger@whig.com | @StevieDirtWHIG
dwilson@whig.com | @DougWilsonWHIG

QUINCY -- Amy Shank is not an online shopper.

"I like to be able to hold something in my hand, to touch it and be able to ask questions," the Quincy resident said.

Shank said she's going to miss the JC Penney store in the Quincy Mall, which corporate spokesmen announced on Wednesday will close on or about April 4. The announcement caught many local shoppers by surprise.

"I'm shocked at losing a major store like that," Terry Mast of Quincy said. "But my wife and I were saying just the other day that we couldn't remember there ever being so little merchandise as there is now in the store."

Mary Fuller of Quincy has always relied on Penney's for certain purchases, but now she must find a new shopping home.

"I'm surprised and I'm disappointed, because there are not that many options in Quincy," Fuller said.

Tom Meulemans, Penney's store leader in Quincy, wasn't certain if he was being philosophical or was still in shock after being notified of the plans to close the store in roughly three months.

"I'm not mad. I'm not resentful. I've got none of that," said Meulemans, who had to tell about 55 associates the end was near.

Meulemans spoke of the pride in the people he works with at Penney's. Several already have been contacted about new jobs, while others have told him they would stay at Penney's until the last day.

After 30 years with the company, Meulemans has not been through a store closure. He's not certain where he'll land.

"The retail world is evolving. It has changed," Meulemans said.

When JC Penney opened in the Quincy Mall in 1982, it was within three blocks of its biggest competitors. Bergner's and Sears also were in the mall, and customers often did comparison shopping. Kmart was at 36th and Broadway, and Jack's was at 48th and Broadway.

Wal-Mart, Kohl's, TJ Maxx and other competitors have arrived in town in the intervening years.

"There's a lot of business shifting online, too," Meulemans said.

Quincy Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Amy Looten was sad to hear about the closing.

"They have played an important role in the strength of the Quincy Mall for many years," Looten said.

She too, believes that retail growth in Quincy has changed the environment.

"Our success as a shopping hub for residents within a 60- to 75-mile mile radius has resulted in multiple ‘big box' stores locating here. And, for the most part, that has been a good thing because it makes Quincy a shopping destination, bringing more visitors to our community. However, it also puts more pressure on an individual store to compete. Add to that the competition from Internet sales, and it's not difficult to see how these things happen," Looten said.

Mike Jenkins, marketing director for the mall, said it was too soon to speculate on what other retailers might be interested in the building.

An official statement from mall management read: "We will certainly miss their presence at Quincy Mall as well as their staff."

Joey Thomas, a corporate media relations worker for JC Penney Co., said eligible employees who do not remain with the company will receive separation benefits. The company will offer an on-site career training class to assist associates in writing resumes, filling out applications and answering interview questions.

"If possible, we will assist associates in identifying other job opportunities at nearby JC Penney stores," Thomas said.

The closest JC Penney store once the Quincy site closes will be in Hannibal, Mo.

The closure is one of about 40 anticipated by JC Penney and represents nearly 4 percent of the corporation's stores.

"We continually evaluate our store portfolio to determine whether there's a need to close or relocate underperforming stores," Thomas said. "While it's never an easy decision to close stores, especially due to the impact on our valued associates and customers, we feel this is a necessary business decision."

The mall was built in 1978 along a portion of what had formerly been Town & Country Shopping Center near 33rd and Broadway. Before moving of the mall, JC Penney was at 529 Maine. Store managers at the time of the move said the 96,000-square-foot building at the mall was about twice the size of the older store, which had been vacant for about 10 years and was scheduled to be demolished when it burned down on Nov. 4, 1993.

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