J.C. Penney

OTTUMWA — After nearly 101 years in Ottumwa, J.C. Penney is pulling out of Ottumwa.

J.C. Penney reached a century in Ottumwa last March. The retail chain announced plans to close more than 130 stores in February. The list of stores was released Friday and both Ottumwa and Oskaloosa are on the list of store closures.

A total of 138 stores are being shut down, along with one supply chain facility closure and another facility relocation. The closures will affect about 5,000 employees nationally and most closures are expected to take place in June.

With the announcement, J.C. Penney becomes the fourth major retailer to close in Ottumwa in the past 18 months. Target and Kmart both closed in early 2016, and M.C. Sports is in the process of liquidating after the parent company declared bankruptcy.

J.C. Penney specifically cited “the growing threat of online retailers” when it announced plans to close as many as 140 stores in late February. Some private analysts had predicted some sites based on sales data from the company. Ottumwa was not on those lists, but none attempted to identify all of the stores being closed.

Sharon Stroh, executive director of the Ottumwa Economic Development Corp., said it’s important to realize there is a difference between targeting stores and targeting communities.

“It’s not my gut feeling that Ottumwa is at fault when these decisions are made,” she said. “They happen at a much higher level.”

Stroh said developments with other options, including Hobby Lobby’s planned hiring within the next couple months and ongoing efforts at hiring for the new call center downtown, may help cushion the blow for some employees.

A total of four of the 15 J.C. Penney locations are closing in Iowa. The closings will hit Decorah and Fort Dodge as well.

Employees of the Ottumwa store were apparently told of the closure earlier this week at a staff meeting. On Thursday, the Courier sought comment from J.C. Penney’s corporate offices about the meeting, but they refused to return calls.

The past decade has been tough for once-dominant department stores. J.C. Penney is only the latest to announce large-scale closures. Sears and Macy’s have done the same.

A weak holiday season appeared to play a major role in the decision on store closures. In announcing the closures, the company said sales at stores that had been open at least one year fell 0.7 percent in the fourth quarter.

Lexington Realty International, Quincy Place Mall’s parent company, lists the J.C. Penney location at 34,372 square feet. That’s the third-largest store footprint in the mall, behind Herberger’s and the soon-to-close M.C. Sports.

A third store in the mall, Vanity, is also falling victim to changing trends. The company announced its liquidation and closure of all stores earlier this month. When Vanity, M.C. Sports and J.C. Penney are added to the list of available locations, Quincy Place Mall will have more than 120,000 square feet of vacant retail space, based on information on Lexington Realty’s website.

Stroh said she has tried to contact Lexington Realty, but had been unsuccessful as of midday Friday. “I imagine they’re inundated,” she said.

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Matt Milner currently serves as the Courier's Managing Editor. Milner is a trained weather spotter and is usually outside if there are storms. He joined the Courier in 2002.