HAMILTON TOWNSHIP – Three months after the last merchandise left the shelves of the old Sears store, the Hamilton Mall has confirmed the closure of another department store.
J.C. Penney will be closing its premises in Hamilton on July 5th, Crystal Rodriguez, director of marketing for the mall, said Thursday.
"This decision is the result of a continuous review of our store portfolio, which includes an assessment of locations that may not achieve our required financial goals or represent an opportunity to take advantage of a beneficial real estate asset" said the company in a statement. "It's never easy to take action that directly impacts our valued employees and customers, but we believe this is a necessary business decision."
J.C. Penney closed more stores after the holiday season.
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The department store announced Thursday that it would extinguish light in 18 locations in total, including three announced last month. It will also close nine home and furniture stores.
"It's really sad to see all things close," said Brianna Burke, a 33-year-old client who has been in the mall since she was 10 years old. "The mall will be empty."
"I think this is going to be a blow to the economy in terms of lack of variety of stores, convenience and employment," said Paula Davis, 64, who was also at the mall Thursday after -midday.
Davis said that she preferred to be "physically in a store", so she's shopping online, she wants to "see the quality of (clothes) and touch her."
Net profit at J.C. Penney dropped nearly 70% and a key measure for health fell 4% in the fourth quarter, the most crucial period of the year for retailers expecting strong holiday sales.
The company met the highest expectations for fourth quarter results. Under the new president, Jill Soltau, the department store is getting rid of its unprofitable stocks and has announced that it will have a positive free cash flow this year.
Shares jumped more than 22% on Thursday, their second-biggest gain in a day.
Soltau, who joined the group in October, faces many challenges to avoid the fate of Sears and other retailers who have filed for bankruptcy protection or gone missing.
Under the direction of Soltau, J.C. Penney dropped large aircraft, which accounted for 2.7% of the company's sales last year, but weighed on the company's operating earnings.
Instead, it focuses on women's clothing and household items, such as towels or sheets, which offer higher profit margins. The furniture is always available, but only online.
This was reversed by predecessor Marvin Ellison, who, three years ago, started selling big appliances again in an attempt to take advantage of the problems at Sears.
At a teleconference Thursday, Ms. Soltau said she spent time with her customers, suppliers and workers, and was convinced that the company can establish a trajectory of "sustainable growth of profits. "
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The changes will be quick, methodical and based on what customers want and expect from J.C. Penney, Soltau said. "It's not as if nothing had happened," she said at a conference call Thursday. "Our current reality is clear."
Department stores like J.C. Penney are trying to reinvent themselves at a time when Americans are buying more online or turning to discounters like T.J. Maxx for clothing.
Bringing buyers back has proven extremely difficult even for iconic brands.
The pace seems to be slowing down at Macy's, which will soon be the last department store at the Hamilton Mall. Fourth quarter results showed lower overall profits and sales, as well as lower sales growth in traditional stores, a key measure of a retailer's health.
The path to prosperity seems particularly weak for J.C. Penney. He is trying to find his way again after the disastrous reinvention plan of his former CEO, Ron Johnson, in 2012, which had significantly reduced his promotions and introduced new brands to attract young buyers.
Sales at J.C. Penney dropped in free fall, suffered huge losses and once loyal customers moved out.
The situation has stabilized, but the establishment of an identity in a retail landscape that has undergone seismic changes continues to elude the retailer.
"The central problem for (J.C. Penney) is that it no longer gives buyers reason to visit stores and make purchases," said Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail. In other words, he lost sight of why he exists. This is evident in both stores and online, where a mix of products is thrown in seemingly random fashion. "
The company reduced inventories by 13% last year, and this will continue in 2019. Soltau said that more clean stores will make it easier for people to find what they want.
Associated Press and trainee Shannon Joyce contributed to this report.