Local JCPenney closing doors

END OF AN ERA — JCPenney at Five Lakes Centre in Fairmont is seen Friday afternoon. The company announced Friday that the local store is among 138 it is closing nationwide.

FAIRMONT — JCPenney, a retail landmark in Fairmont since 1929, will close its doors at Five Lakes Centre on June 18. About 30 full- and part-time employees at the store and styling salon received official notice earlier this week.

About three weeks ago, J.C. Penney Company Inc. announced its intent to close stores as part of a plan to optimize its retail operations and profitability. The move impacted 138 stores that represent about 14 percent of the company’s stores, but less than 5 percent of total annual sales, according to a statement from the company.

Liquidation of the Fairmont store is expected to begin in mid-April.

Local employees were stunned by the decision. Some have worked at the store 15, 20 and even 30 years, and they said the store was meeting and exceeding sales goals. They were bereft when talking about the reality of losing the security of long-time employment, health insurance and other benefits. The wait between the initial announcement three weeks ago and the final word this week also took an emotional toll on them, as they felt they were living their lives in limbo.

City officials immediately stepped up to offer assistance and support.

“Any time a business closes, the community feels a loss regardless of the size,” said city administrator Mike Humpal. “It is always more difficult when a decision like this is made in a corporate headquarters outside the community. Community leaders feel somewhat helpless.

“City staff will work to facilitate communication between the Department of Employment and Economic Development and the JCPenney employees for re-employment assistance. City staff also will be working with the mall owners and others to market the space that will be vacated.”

Linsey Preuss, Fairmont economic development director, echoed Humpal’s words.

“It is difficult to deal with decisions made nationally,” she said. “Community leaders always take a two-pronged approach when dealing with a business closure. First, we want to make sure the employees are supported, which the Workforce Center and DEED assist with, and secondly, we will work with other companies to see if we can get the space filled with a similar business.”

Margaret Dillard, president of the Fairmont Area Chamber of Commerce, said Penney’s decision to close 138 stores across the nation emphasizes the importance of people shopping locally first.

“As our economy changes, it’s more important than ever for residents to know that dollars spent locally equals a stronger community,” she said. “Studies show that 68 cents of ever dollar spent stays in town and sales tax generated supports parks, trails and other local amenities.”

She added that the city, economic development and business leaders, the Workforce Center and the Chamber have the tools, skills and experience to help the community move beyond this challenge.

According to the company statement from JCPenney, associates who will be impacted by the store closures will receive separation benefits, which includes assistance identifying other employment opportunities. The store closings will result in the loss of jobs for about 5,000 of associates nationwide. The company had about 105,000 employees last year.

The Fairmont store is one of eight closing in Minnesota and four in Iowa. Minnesota stores include those in Baxter, Faribault, Hibbing, Hutchinson, Red Wing, Thief River Falls and Winona. Iowa stores include those in Decorah, Fort Dodge, Oskaloosa and Ottumwa.