Urbana hotel project receives zoning approval

J.C. Penney closing two area stores

J.C. Penney will close its Springfield store in the struggling Upper Valley Mall, as well as its Greenville store, this spring, affecting a combined 145 employees.

The closings, scheduled “on or about” April 5, will affect 90 employees in Springfield and 55 in Greenville, according to J.C. Penney spokesman Joey Thomas.

“We continually evaluate our store portfolio to determine whether there’s a need to close or relocate underperforming stores,” Thomas said. “Reviews such as these are essential in meeting our long-term goals for future company growth.

“While it’s never an easy decision to close stores, especially due to the impact on our valued associates and customers, we feel this is a necessary business decision.”

Employees who will lose their jobs will be considered for positions at other J.C. Penney stores if possible, and others will receive separation benefits, the company spokesman said. An on-site career training class also will be offered to all employees of the stores targeted for closing, he said.

The Springfield closing comes as a blow to economic development officials in Clark County who have been working together to attract new tenants to the Upper Valley Pike area, said George Degenhart, planning and zoning director in Clark County’s German Twp. J.C. Penney’s announcement, along with recent closings at businesses such as Kmart, make that effort even more of a challenge, Degenhart said.

“It hurts,” Degenhart said. “It hurts the entire Springfield community. Things like this reflect on all of us. This one hurts.”

The Upper Valley Mall, which opened in 1971, was already is at a crossroads due to increasing competition, the changing habits of customers and legal issues that have created uncertainty for its future. The main portion of the mall is now owned by Wells Fargo bank and is under new management after previous owner Simon Management Associates defaulted on a $47 million loan. The mall’s new managers have pledged to invest in it, and store owners have expressed optimism about the mall’s future.

Despite Wednesday’s announcement, mall officials said they remain optimistic they will be able to find a new tenant for the space. J.C. Penney has had a presence at the mall since it opened. Elder-Beerman, another longtime former tenant, closed its doors in 2012, but the mall was able to fill that space when the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery opened a satellite location at Upper Valley, said Brenda LaBonte, the mall’s general manager.

“Obviously we’re disappointed they’re leaving, but it was their business decision,” LaBonte said of J.C. Penney. “It does create an opportunity because we’re already in search for just the right tenant our shoppers will want at Upper Valley.”

Springfield’s mall isn’t alone in facing these kinds of closures, said Horton Hobbs, vice president of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce.

“Certainly it’s disappointing to lose another anchor at the mall,” Hobbs said. “We need to recognize, though, that our mall like many retail areas have had anchors that used to have a great deal more success than they’re having now, not just locally but nationally. Part of what’s happened at the mall is not dissimilar from what’s happening at many regional malls.”

The announcement is a new challenge for the mall, but Hobbs said he remains confident in Urban Retail, a Chicago-based company that took over management of the mall earlier this year.

“We continue to remain optimistic that under this new format with their ownership, they will stay committed to the mall and we continue to find opportunities,” Hobbs said.

J.C. Penney’s presence in the mall will be missed, said Clark County Commissioner John Detrick. “I hope the new (mall) management can find someone to replace them, because they’ve been a pillar in this community since 1971,” Detrick said.

The closing reflects “the brutality of retail today, and the Internet taking a lot of the retail base,” the county commissioner said.

In Darke County, J.C. Penney joins Kmart and Staples in announcing recent store closures in Greenville. However, Whirlpool Corp. broke ground in August on a $40 million expansion of its Greenville manufacturing operations that will generate a projected 400 new jobs by 2018.

The company also is closing a store in the Eastland Mall in Columbus, which has 80 employees, Thomas said. After the closure of the three stores, J.C. Penney will continue to operate 43 stores in Ohio.

The announcement of the store closures come as J.C. Penney announced stronger-than-expected sales for the holiday period, sending the department store chain’s stock soaring 20 percent Tuesday. The stock held onto that gain on Wednesday. Same-store sales rose 3.7 percent in the nine weeks through the end of December.

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