March 18, 2017 11:03:07 PM
Alex Holloway - [email protected]
Leigh Mall in Columbus is losing one of its anchor stores.
The Plano, Texas-based clothing retailer JCPenney announced on Friday it will close 138 stores nationwide. Five Mississippi locations, including the store located in Leigh Mall on Highway 45, are scheduled to close this summer. Additional closures are set for Corinth, Greenville, Meridian and Oxford. Most stores, according to the release, will begin liquidation sales on April 17.
The corporation said the closures will affect about 5,000 jobs nationwide. The Leigh Mall location, which opened in 1976, employs about 30 workers. Company spokesperson Sarah Holland said the store will close in mid-June.
In its release, JCPenney called the move "part of a continuing effort to advance sustainable growth and long-term profitability."
Holland said the decision came after a review of the store.
"Our decision to close these locations was made after careful analysis of store performance, local demographics, ability to deliver on the company's growth strategies and proficiency to execute a seamless omni-channel experience through online order fulfillment, same-day pick up, exchanges and returns," she said.
Columbus-Lowndes Chamber of Commerce President Lisa James lamented the store's imminent closure.
"Any time a business in Columbus closes, it makes us sad, for the employees that are losing their jobs and the tax base we're losing," James said. "We're going to do everything we can to try to locate another tenant for that spot in the mall."
Higgins: JCPenney a 'big, cheap tenant'
Golden Triangle Development LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins said it was unfortunate to see the store closing. However, he indicated that JCPenney paid relatively low rent, especially for its large size. He declined to specify the amount for The Dispatch because he said he is not authorized to release the information.
"Their store mix and selections have not been as a good as what a market like Columbus deserves," Higgins said. "Them vacating that space might allow us get one or more stores that would have better mixes or selections, and probably a store that could pay more rent, which would help make improvements to the mall. Having a big, cheap tenant move out might not be the worst thing."
He said the LINK officials had already met with mall management to start forming a plan on what to do with the space.
California-based Securities National Properties owns Leigh Mall. Company Vice President Mike Willcutt did not return calls and emails seeking comment.
Mall manager Gail Culpepper would not comment when The Dispatch reached her on Saturday.
'It's kind of sad'
For former employee Tammy Niles, Friday's news was painful. Niles, who now lives in Leeds, Alabama, grew up in Columbus and worked at the JCPenney in 1977 after finishing high school.
She said working at the store felt like being part of a family, and she continues to shop at JCPenney, even though she no longer lives in Columbus.
"It's kind of sad," she said. "I remember the old downtown store and shopping there as a kid, with my aunt working there. My mother, grandmother and I would go shopping and immediately, I'd go up to the second floor where my aunt was. Working there later as a young adult and shopping there for many years, it's sad to see part of my history going away."
Challenges from online competition
JCPenney announced in February it would close up to 140 stores. At the time, CEO Marvin R. Ellison indicated the move would help the retailer deal with online competition.
The store closures represent almost 14 percent of JCPenney's total stores, and less than 5 percent of total annual sales, according to Ellison's February statements. Closures are expected to save the company about $200 million annually.
Starkville's JCPenney, located in the Starkville Crossings shopping center on Highway 12, survived the company's cuts.
Holland said that while the company will "continually review our store base," it doesn't anticipate additional store closures.
Greater Starkville Development Partnership Interim CEO Heath Barret said he is pleased JCPenney will be sticking around.
"That's a great opportunity for our residents to do some shopping on the west side of town," Barret said. "So we're excited that they're going to stay here and provide that shopping experience."