This Main-street Merchant is No Stranger to Adversity
JC Penney is a retail company that is deeply rooted in American culture. Anchored in nearly every mall across the country, it started with one location and grew into one of the nation’s largest department store chains. From its humble beginnings selling dry goods to the iconic brand it is today; there’s one thing that has never wavered: the company’s trust in the Golden Rule.
Be sure to add your comments in the “Leave a Reply” section at the bottom of this page
James Cash Penney and two partners opened a dry-goods store named Golden Rule in 1902 in Kemmerer, Wyoming. Penney bought out his initial partners just five years later and replaced them with new ones, starting with Earl Corder Sams, who served as president of the company from 1914 until 1946.
The firm was incorporated in 1913, and at that time, there were 34 locations, all in the American West. In 1914, the company moved its headquarters to New York City, and by 1927, JC Penney was publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange. During these years, the company went through significant periods of growth, and by 1929, there were 1,392 stores.
JC Penney retired in 1946 and was given the title of honorary chairman. Though he was no longer with the company, his conservative policies would reign supreme for at least another ten years. In fact, for many years, it’s said that employees faced discharge for using alcohol or tobacco, even privately.
Penney was also a long-time proponent of cash-and-carry, as he considered it his way of protecting the customers from debt. However, this policy was abolished in 1958 when the retailer began selling on credit via their store card. Moreover, the company widened its focus from just apparel and notions to include soft and hard goods and other more fashionable merchandise.
The diversification allowed the company to compete with national department store chains like Montgomery Ward & Co. and Sears, Roebuck, and Co. With this, JC Penney began to offer mail-order catalogs in 1962 after acquiring the General Merchandise Co. The first JCPenney catalog hit mailboxes in 1963.
Between 1968 and 1969, JC Penney began to expand overseas after acquiring the Belgian retail chain Sarma, SA. And in 1971, the company inaugurated its first stores in Italy. By 1988, JC Penney moved its headquarters from New York City to Plano, Texas. The retailer opened stores in Chile and Mexico in 1995 but closed the international division in 2003 due to declining sales.
By the early 21st century, the company was experiencing declining sales and began attempts at boosting its revenue. The first step was announcing a partnership with cosmetics chain Sephora to open outlet locations in select JC Penney stores. Two years later, in 2008, the company launched a house brand known as the American Living Brand with Ralph Lauren, but it was discontinued in 2012. During this same time, JC Penney added other brands, such as Linden Street home furnishings and clothing lines for young men and juniors. By the 2010s, most of the revenue was coming from online sales, so the catalog was discontinued.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic only worsened the retailer’s already poor sales, and JC Penney filed for bankruptcy protection in 2020. Late the same year, Simon Property Group and Brookfield Asset Management agreed to purchase the company for approximately $800 million in cash and debt.
JC Penney is still headquartered in Plano, Texas, and operates 667 locations in 49 states and Puerto Rico. As of 2022, the company is in the midst of another rebranding, so if anything at JC Penney has remained constant over the years, it’s that the company is always changing. For now, we will wait to see if JC Penney successfully revamps its business or if it will follow in the footsteps of Sears and Montgomery Ward.
Find A JC Penney Location
To locate a store near you, click the JCPENNEY logo below