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7/31/2017 12:17:00 PM
With closure of J.C. Penney, Logansport Mall enters its twilight -- only 2 stores

Sarah Einselen, Pharos-Tribune News Editor

After J.C. Penney closes its doors at the Logansport Mall for good today, just two stores will be left inside the cavernous shopping center — Dunham’s Sports and a novelty sword shop.

The department store chain announced in February it would be closing Logansport’s store as of July 31 as well as more than 130 other locations across the U.S. Locals took the news as a death knell for the mall, which Penney’s has anchored since the mall’s opening in 1968.

J.C. Penney Co. CEO Marvin Ellison said during a June presentation that the 130-plus stores slated to close were put on that list for one of two reasons. Either they were in poorly performing malls, he said, or they weren’t likely to stay in the black if the chain sunk money into remodeling those stores or adding new lines of merchandise, like appliances. 

Many shoppers last week visited Penney’s to check out the 80 percent, 90 percent or 95 percent discounts advertised in yellow and red signage.

“I’m just sad to see the mall go,” Linsey Reed said, holding her baby daughter on her hip as she walked into Penney’s Thursday to check out the liquidation sale. “I don’t really like traveling to buy clothes.”

A resident of Royal Center, Reed thought she might find some school clothes for her son, who is headed to kindergarten this fall, she said.

But precious little was left inside Penney’s by then.

The merchandise had all been brought forward, filling less about the front third of the store and mainly consisting of less popular sizes or winter garments. Hundreds of fixtures — clothing racks, tables, display cases — were also marked for sale or already tagged as sold.

Logansport High School art teachers Sandy Gaier and Amy Werner stopped by Thursday to look for display furniture to augment the high school’s art gallery.

As Gaier carried out a jewelry display she figured she’d repurpose for showing off student art, she and Werner said they would miss having a last-minute place to buy dressier clothing.

“We were just talking about, there’s only one place in Logansport to buy children’s clothes,” Werner said.

She typically purchases clothes online for her young family, she said. That’s the direction she thinks modern retail is heading, but at the same time, “there’s just nowhere to go for last-minute things,” she said — like last weekend, when she needed a pair of white children’s sandals unexpectedly.

But it wasn’t all about the convenience for Werner. She remembered visiting the Logansport Mall as a teenager just to be social.

“We’d spend hours going to all the stores, eating in the restaurants,” Werner recalled.

“I think it’s like this all over America,” she added. “Malls are just dying everywhere.”

Her view is a common one. A retail analyst told CNBC last year he believes some 400 of the nation’s 1,100 enclosed malls are likely to fold over the next few years.

Jan Kniffen, CEO of J. Rogers Kniffen Worldwide Enterprises, told the news network that’s because the U.S. is oversaturated with retail space, plus more and more customers are buying merchandise online or at fast-fashion outlets.

Logansport has already been hit hard by retail closures. After Jo-Ann Fabrics and other stores shuttered during the economic recession early this decade, the city lost Sears in 2013, followed by Staples in 2014, both located on mall property. 

The mall’s high vacancy rate got some notice from an out-of-town visitor last year. An essay and photo collection posted to the social network Tumblr labeled the local mall the “Logansport Mall of the Dead,” and went viral on social media shortly afterward.

Just a couple of weeks ago, GNC Nutrition also closed its doors inside the mall.

Dollar Tree and an Asian food market remain in outdoor storefronts on mall property, and Dunham’s hasn’t announced any plans to leave Logansport, either. A Dunham’s spokesperson did not return a call seeking comment.

The sporting goods chain, which now operates more than 225 stores across 21 states, has opened seven stores in the last year and expanded two others, according to news releases posted to the chain’s website. It’s been in Logansport since 1998.

And while Logansport has lost a number of retailers, some have also entered the city, like Rural King. The store opened after Kmart closed in town in the mid-2000s.

That’s where Hector Madrigal buys his clothes, he said Thursday on his way in to shop at Penney’s. But for his children’s school clothing, he would have preferred to keep the department store in town.

He’s concerned that Penney’s closure will leave less variety — and more importantly, less competition — among Logansport retailers.

“You don’t know” what you’ve lost, he said, “until they’re all gone.”

#YYYY# Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc.

Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR

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