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COMMENTARY

Discount Diva: Take Sears if you must, but please leave my J.C. Penney

Sears is probably about to file for bankruptcy.

It’s mind-boggling to think about, considering what a juggernaut the department store once was.

At the same time, considering Sears’ poor performance over the years, it’s easy to ask, “What took so long?”

J.C. Penney is another stalwart department store that has been notoriously sputtering along over the years. And, while it’s in a better position when compared to Sears, its future is nearly as murky.

Once one of the country’s top retailers, J.C. Penney has steeply declined, losing market share to big-box stores and online competitors. Over the past 10 years, its stock price has fallen 95 percent.

J.C. Penney closed its Dunkirk store last year, though the community and its leaders put up a fight to save it. Stores remain at Walden Galleria, Boulevard Mall, McKinley Mall, Eastern Hills Mall, Batavia City Centre in Batavia, Chautauqua Mall and Olean Center Mall.

The only Sears department store left in the Buffalo Niagara market is at McKinley Mall in Hamburg. That’s a big deal for people in the Southtowns. The J.C. Penney and Sears stores in the McKinley Mall are the only department stores south of the Walden Galleria, now that Macy’s and Bon-Ton have closed their stores at that mall.

Why Dunkirk tried, but failed, to save the city's J.C. Penney

J.C. Penney just installed a new CEO, 30-year retail veteran and former Jo-Ann stores CEO Jill Soltau. Investors are optimistic about that.

But no one is sure she, or anyone, will be able to turn J.C. Penney around.

Retail experts thought the previous CEO, Marvin Ellison, was making all the right moves before quitting abruptly to take the helm at Lowe’s. He brought back appliance sales to go after former Sears customers and overhauled the toy department to capture former Toys R Us shoppers. He revamped J.C. Penney’s merchandise, private labels and supply lines. Even then, the situation didn’t measurably improve.

Consumers just aren’t catching on.

I get it. Cashing out at the store can be a pain, with short staffing, confusing configuration and long lines. The sale racks get messy and crowded, and it’s not exactly the place to go for cutting edge style.

But in my opinion, J.C. Penney is the most reliable store for classic, practical clothing that is well made and well priced.

The fit is far superior, thanks to special sizing such as tall, curvy, plus and petite.

And, while J.C. Penney clothing is inexpensive, it’s not cheap. Walmart? Target? H&M? Sure, their clothes are cheap, but how do they fit? What happens after you wash them?

You can walk into J.C. Penney and get clothing priced as low as or cheaper than Walmart. We’re talking $6 pants on clearance that you can wear, wash and throw in the dryer, over and over again for years to come.

And J.C. Penney’s sizing is consistent, meaning you can order on JCP.com with confidence.

I think J.C. Penney has simply fallen off a lot of shoppers’ radar, especially after Ron Johnson’s infamous failed rebrand of 2011.

So, if you haven’t shopped there in a while, it’s worth giving the store another look – before it’s too late.

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