United States department store chain that stayed in business into the year 2002 and beyond (unlike Montgomery Ward), successfully making the transition from Main Street to shopping mall (unlike F.W. Woolworth's), and continuing its catalog operation (unlike Sears).
In 1898, James Cash Penney went to work as a clerk for entrepreneurs Guy Johnson and Thomas Callahan, who owned a chain of stores called Golden Rule in the Rocky Mountain states. Penney impressed the men enough that they brought him into the partnership and made him the general manager of a Golden Rule store in Kemmerer, Wyoming, which opened on April 14, 1902.
Penney's Kemmerer Golden Rule store was an instant success, offering lower prices than the local mining company store, even though Penney's philosophical opposition to selling merchandise on credit meant that the Golden Rule accepted cash only. By 1907, Callahan and Johnson dissolved their partnership, leaving Penney in charge of the entire Golden Rule chain.
The chain kept expanding throughout the West, and in 1913, Penney reorganized the Golden Rule stores and incorporated the company as the J.C. Penney Company, Inc., in Salt Lake City. Then the stage was set for nationwide expansion of the newly renamed J.C. Penney stores when the headquarters moved to New York City in 1914.
J.C. Penney stores were coast to coast by 1920, and the company expanded still further during the 1920s, opening over 1,250 stores by 1930, most located on Main Streets across the country. Following World War II, though, J.C. Penney stores began to open in suburban shopping malls instead of on Main Street, with the first mall location opening in the St. Louis suburbs in 1949.
J.C. Penney continued its transition from Main Street institution to mall anchor store at a feverish pace throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Most Main Street locations closed, replaced by much larger stores out at the mall, now selling major appliances and hardware products along with the traditional clothes and home furnishings. Credit cards were first accepted in 1958. In 1962, J.C. Penney acquired the General Merchandise Company, turning its catalog into the J.C. Penney catalog and renaming its discount store chain The Treasury (later closing down the chain in 1980). Then, a new logo and slight name change for the stores were introduced in the mid-1960s, turning J.C. Penney into Penney's.
James Cash Penney died in 1971, and his initials returned to the name, this time without the stodgy periods and spaces. The label on the stores became JCPenney.
Following lackluster sales in the 1970s, JCPenney repositioned itself during the 1980s as a retailer of home furnishings and fashionable apparel, dropping the appliances and hardware by the mid-1980s. In 1987, JCPenney moved its headquarters from New York to Dallas, then to suburban Plano in 1992.
In 1993, Sears discontinued its catalog, and JCPenney suddenly found itself as the largest catalog seller in the U.S. In 1994, JCPenney was one of the first major retailers to start a Web site, although it remained a bare bones operation for the next several years.
The major growth in the 1990s was in drugstores. JCPenney had bought a Northeastern chain of drugstores called Thrift Drug in 1969, and then between 1995 and 1998, acquired Fay's, Kerr Drugs, Genovese, and the big prize, Eckerd Drugs. All the drugstores were branded with the Eckerd name.
In 2002, there were 1,068 JCPenney stores operating in all 50 states, plus Puerto Rico and Mexico, and 2,642 Eckerd drugstores in the Northeast, Southeast, and Southwest U.S.
- History pages at jcpenney.net