My J.C. Penney


Yesterday I read about the new strategy for the old J.C. Penney stores: Put in brand departments and NO MORE SPECIAL SALES! Everything is to be priced fairly (reflecting true cost) every day.

Today I read that J.C. Penney stock is up. No surprise. One of the cost-cutting effects will be to get rid of all those employees whose job it was to paste new price tags over old price tags.

I’m not sure yet how I feel about this. My image of J.C. Penney comes from the childhood memory of being taken by the hand to that smallish department store a half-block down a side street from Main to get basic school clothes: underwear, socks, and a Girl Scout uniform. Maybe there were other items, too, but I knew and still know that Penney’s is not where you go for “outfits” (i.e. stylish clothes). We went to Winkelman’s or Heinemann’s as we grew older – with friends – to buy swim suits or coats. Yes, we were allowed to charge them to our parents. It only took a phone call.

In my heart of hearts I want Penney’s to survive, and not by dedicating 400 square feet to Martha Stewart or by clearing out the center of the store of cosmetics and jewelry in order to put in a food court. I would like it to be something like a 3-D Vermont Country Store, where I could go back in time and buy decent socks. I would like to be able to have tailored white blouses always available. Likewise, good quality towels and blankets that can be ordered monogrammed. I want cozy flannel nightgowns for winter and cool cotton pajamas for summer.

Add in a department that has good quality children’s shoes, something almost impossible to find these days. How about boys’ camp shorts, the ones with the roomy patch pockets and a clip on the belt loop? Oh? These now are called cargo pants? You don’t understand:  I mean the short pants that can be passed on next year to another child. By the way, whatever happened to kids’ overalls — not the farmer kind stocked at Sears & Roebuck even further down the side street, but corduroy ones — the kind you wore with striped tee shirts.

As for the branding of departments, I’ve seen that happen in the biggest store in the world, Harrods in London. In my mind that is a disaster, simply lifting store fronts up three or four floors beyond where you want to be, in the full stomach of a Victorian matron.

Harrods used to feature English goods, things people really needed, every substantial household had, and that lasted a lifetime, or two, or three. Now it is hard to find English-made goods anywhere. If you want to try to find a particular thing in the store that claims to be “the biggest,” you have to wade first through the ground floor throngs, past the watchful eyes of snooty salesclerks who will perhaps show you (depending on how you are dressed) unbelievably expensive handbags, perfumes, scarves, etcetera, to get to the elevators. First this makes you feel bad. You are a Have Not. Then it makes you pleased that you have escaped the trap.

You might then saunter into the ground floor Food Halls, which are still quintessentially British. The basic clientele there is reputedly Royal, but the clerks will sell an ordinary shopper anything we want (if we are willing to “queue” a while). The clerks are professional, but still willing to please and charm the customer.

One change in the Food Halls: There no longer is a stack of naked beef roasts in a display in a corner of the floor. These days, it would be considered unsanitary and perhaps in (pardon the pun) bad taste. Possibly, even Mohammed Al Fayed, who now owns the store, can’t bear to throw away good meat at today’s prices.

Another change: Harrod’s now accepts Chinese credit cards.

Just wondering…how many days they allowed the same roasts to serve as props — back in the good old days of gluttony.


Leave a Reply




You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>