J.C. Penney closing its Lewiston store after filing for bankruptcy

Shoppers line up in front of J.C. Penney in the Lewiston Center Mall earlier in the morning on Black Friday in 2009. The Lewiston’s Penney location is one of 154 that will be closed, the company announced Thursday.

LEWISTON — J.C. Penney is closing for good at the Lewiston Center Mall, marking the end for the community’s last remaining traditional department store and depriving the shopping center of one of its few anchor tenants.

The closure is one of 154 that were announced Thursday on the J.C. Penney website. The national retailer is consolidating its brick-and-mortar footprint in the aftermath of filing for bankruptcy protection last month.

The 118-year-old chain has been a part of Lewiston for more than a century, said Lewis-Clark Institutional Historian Steven Branting in an email.

“The first Lewiston store, number nine in the chain, opened in the old Weisgerber Building, at Fifth and Main as the ‘Neighbors, Brown & Penny Company,’ in October 1911,” Branting said.

The Lewiston location of the retailer has been closed since mid-March because of measures taken to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

But the store’s financial troubles predate the pandemic. The Associated Press reported in January that J.C. Penney saw sales slip by 7.5 percent in November and December at stores opened at least a year as it was “trying to claw its way back from a disastrous reinvention plan back in 2012.”

Retail was already one of the sectors “hard hit” in Idaho by the coronavirus, said Kathryn Tacke, an economist with the Idaho Department of Labor in Lewiston. In the last 11 weeks, it lost 175 jobs in Nez Perce County, she said.

Another national chain that operated in Lewiston, Pier 1, announced last month that it was folding as the home decor store fell to pressure from the increasing popularity of online shopping.

Before COVID-19 hit, Macy’s, which had about 50 employees in Lewiston, had decided to shutter its store at the Lewiston mall, leaving it with retailers such as WinCo Foods, Big Lots, Rite Aid and Bath & Bodyworks.

J.C. Penney, Pier 1 and Macy’s are among stores that have left the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley for a number of reasons, leaving a growing number of large, empty buildings.

The exodus has included Kmart, Shopko and Tri-State Outfitters in Lewiston and Bi-Mart in Clarkston in the last two years.

Kmart closed when the parent company of it and Sears downsized after Sears emerged from bankruptcy.

All of Shopko’s stores throughout the nation were shuttered in a bankruptcy, but its optical branch survived and is now at 2331 Thain Grade in Lewiston.

Tri-State Outfitters challenges were limited to its Lewiston store that had two competitors nearby. It still has branches in Moscow, Coeur d’Alene and Moses Lake.

Bi-Mart’s Clarkston store didn’t meet the company’s performance goals, according to company officials.

Elaine Williams may be contacted at ewilliam@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2261.

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