A fixture in downtown Decorah for nearly a century is expected to close its doors in June.
The Decorah J.C. Penney store, celebrating its 95th anniversary this year, is among 138 stores across the country that will be closing, an announcement from the company Friday said.
Approximately 5,000 positions nationwide will be impacted by the store closures, most of which will occur in June. Affected stores will begin the liquidation process April 17.
“As part of a continuing effort to advance sustainable growth and long-term profitability, J. C. Penney Company, Inc. will be closing 138 stores, one supply chain facility in Lakeland, Fla., and relocating one supply chain facility in Buena Park, Calif., to align the company’s physical store footprint and omnichannel network,” the company stated.
In February, J. C. Penney Company, Inc. announced it was implementing a plan to optimize its national retail operations as part of the company’s successful return to profitability. The announcement followed similar decisions from Macys and Sears.
“We believe closing stores will also allow us to adjust our business to effectively compete against the growing threat of online retailers. Maintaining a large store base gives us a competitive advantage in the evolving retail landscape since our physical stores are a destination for personalized beauty offerings, a broad array of special sizes, affordable private brands and quality home goods and services. It is essential to retain those locations that present the best expression of the JCPenney brand and function as a seamless extension of the omnichannel experience through online order fulfillment, same-day pick up, exchanges and returns,” J.C. Penney CEO Marvin Ellison said Friday.
“These strategic decisions will help align the company’s brick-and-mortar presence with its omnichannel network, thereby redirecting capital resources to invest in locations and initiatives that offer the greatest revenue potential,” the company stated.
Decorah J.C. Penney Manager Valeria Kishkunas declined to answer specific questions about her store’s eventual closing, deferring to news releases on the company’s website.
“We are appreciative of the support of our wonderful community, Chamber of Commerce and surrounding businesses. Thank you,” she said.

‘Stunned’
Julie Spilde, owner of Ace Kitchen Place and Ace Hardware, both located in downtown Decorah, said she was stunned by the news.
“We’re entering a whole new ballgame downtown. Here we go. I’m not sure what this is going to mean. I’m devastated. It’s a great store for our community,” she said.
Spilde, whose parents started the family hardware store in Decorah in 1975, said the Decorah J.C. Penney store has done well and has won sales awards recently.
Walking back and forth between her two businesses, Spilde said she constantly sees shoppers coming and going from the store with their J.C. Penney shopping bags.
“I don’t under their reasoning at corporate … I never expected that store (Decorah’s) would be on the list to close,” she said.
Spilde knows the store attracts shoppers from throughout the region.
“You see a lot of different county plates in front of that store. It’s been a draw for different communities throughout the area. Decorah has been lucky to have them. I wish we weren’t losing them,” she said. “It offers a lot for the whole family. If you’re in town and need a few things quick -- an outfit for a child -- you can run in fast and get what you need.”
Spilde said it seems the small town stores that don’t fit the corporation’s “cookie cutter” model are the ones that are closing.
“Some people said if they don’t have the salons, or appliances, they're not interested. I think that’s too bad. I think a lot of people enjoyed having something local and not having to search too hard and far for basic clothes you could get there. You can run in and get what you need and not have to wait until it comes in the mail and hope it fits. People will be missing that convenience.”
Decorah Area Chamber of Commerce Director Kristina Wiltgen also believes the closing is based on a shift in the company’s philosophy.
“The store here has been successful and met a lot of corporate standards and received corporate sales awards. I think we’re seeing this store does not fit the J.C. Penney mold. They aren’t able to expand here. They can’t bring in jewelry, Sephora (beauty products) or appliances. They’re just simplifying some of their footprint and dropping what doesn’t fit the mall anchor,” Wiltgen said.
Losing a store with a 95-year history is a “hard thing to let go of,” the Chamber director said.
“Every store manager played a role in the retail community and was very involved and very active. For a lot of reasons, it’s a store that’s difficult to lose,” Wiltgen said.
She said the fact the store is located in a building owned by a Decorah resident is a positive.
“Stan Fullerton has a vested interest in downtown and will serve that property well,” she said.
Wiltgen said her Board would be meeting to discuss the situation.

Part of the community
Spilde said she can’t remember living in a place where there wasn’t a J.C. Penney store.
“Even when we were in Wausau, Wis., there was a Penneys. It’s a part of the community.”
Spilde said she’d do anything she could to make corporate officials change their minds about closing Decorah’s store.
“I sure wish they would. It would be wonderful,” Spilde said.