Tuesday, July 18, 2017

JCPenney Closing (Oxford Mall), Oxford, MS

Today's post highlights Lafayette County, MS, retail.
Hi all! For this post, we're taking a look at the first of three closing JCPenney stores to make it to the Mid-South Retail Blog. (The other two, of course, will be posted in the future.) All three stores are a part of the 138 JCPenney locations closing nationwide in 2017, and if they are any indication, many of the selected JCPs are smaller stores, in smaller communities, or both. All of the affected stores are scheduled to close at the end of this month - Monday, July 31st, 2017 - if not earlier, so there's still a little bit of time to get out to your local store if it's one of the ones closing.

Today's featured JCPenney is the Oxford, MS, store, at 1111 Jackson Avenue W. That's right - this is one of the anchors of the now-former Oxford Mall, making this post a continuation of sorts of my original one on the Oxford Mall from just a couple of weeks ago! As mentioned in that post, the Oxford Mall only had two anchor stores, Wal-Mart Discount City and JCPenney; when Wal-Mart moved out to a Supercenter down the road, the mall slowly died, leaving JCPenney and a 2005-opened Malco Cinema the only retail operating at the mall today. As a result, the fact that this store made JCP's corporate closing list early this year was not surprising. The University of Mississippi, located directly across the street, has slowly been converting the dead mall space on the former Wal-Mart end of the Oxford Mall into various college uses, so it's very likely that the same fate awaits this JCPenney once it bites the dust in the coming weeks.

Photo courtesy

All of my pictures of this store were taken on Thursday, April 13th, 2017. You can see that the store's exterior color scheme changed to red-on-tan soon after Ole Miss purchased the Oxford Mall, better reflecting the lighter wall paint the university applied to the property than JCPenney's original white-on-black look (as seen here in 2015 courtesy flickr user Mike Kalasnik). In my previous post on the Oxford Mall, I featured a photo from another flickr user which shows the original JCP paint scheme coupled with the mall's original design; click here to see that picture full-size.

That's enough background on this store - let's head inside!

Here's a shot to the right upon entering. We'll mostly be making a counterclockwise circuit around the store's racetrack before returning over to this side for a few extra photos at the very end of the post.

In the background of the previous photo, as well as closer-up and straight-on in the one directly above this comment, you can see the store's former entrance into the Oxford Mall inline corridor. I naturally gravitated toward this space, hoping to find the view into the mall open (if not the doors themselves, of course), but sadly the windows were covered up.

A look at the men's clearance department. I did a little bit of shopping here, and actually scored some really good, cheap deals. Funnily enough, though, this is before the liquidation even began! I was here just four days before the closing sale for all affected JCPenney stores was set to begin, April 13th as compared to the 17th. I wasn't necessarily expecting to see the closing signs hanging up yet, but you'll see them plastered all over the ceiling throughout this post. At the time, I just assumed that the store was already preparing for the liquidation which would begin in a few days' time. However...

...I came home to find out that the very next day, it was announced that all affected JCPenney stores had had their closing sales delayed; they were now to begin liquidating on May 22nd, 2017, with the closures pushed back from June 18th to July 31st. So I guess all these closing signs you're seeing here in Oxford must have been left hanging - literally and figuratively, haha - until the sale began!

The previous shot looked from the men's department clearance section back up toward the store's front entrance; here, that same front entrance is still visible in the background, but the focus has shifted backwards some in order to encompass the customer service desk set within the men's department. This checkout faces the store's former mall entrance.

The tiled portion of the walkway leading to said mall entrance was now home to additional merchandise (and likely had been ever since the interior of the Oxford Mall was closed to the public). On my visit, it was home to a few Disney toys. Word from my fellow flickrer and blogger Random Retail is that JCPenney will soon begin stocking a full toy department in its non-closing stores.

Headed toward the back right corner now, where we find an odd yet super-retro and cool-looking mirrored wall behind the children's department. If there was anything in here that undoubtedly pointed to this store opening in the 1980s, this was it for sure!

A look back toward the front, with more of the kids' department merchandise visible in the foreground here. This area housed clothes for boys, girls, and infants/toddlers.

This shot looks back along the racetrack toward the now-closed mall entrance. Tasteful way of covering it up, sure, but I was pretty disappointed to see this, especially for reasons I'll reveal later on in the post...

For now, we're continuing onward on our trek. Here's a closer look at the mirrored wall, which we see also contains an entrance into some fitting rooms. Totally 80s vibe! The fitting rooms signage looks like it hadn't been updated, either.

As we walk along the rear actionway, we enter the children's shoe (on the left) and women's lingerie/sleepwear (on the right) departments.

Further down the actionway (past additional women's clothing), a fork in the road arises! We will hang that left momentarily, but first we're going to keep going straight...

...after a quick shot looking down that fork in the actionway off to the left towards the front of the store...

...and another view back behind us across the rear actionway we just walked down, where some of that aforementioned women's clothing can be seen.

Finally making it to the back left corner of the store, we (sadly) find no matching mirrored wall over here, although that same dated tile and brown carpet are repeated. This area was home to bath...

...bedding (where we also see a tiled path to a presumed emergency exit carved into the carpet)...

...and luggage (whose display looks to have been in a rather sad shape, even before the liquidation began).

So here we are back at that fork in the road racetrack, where we again see a section of women's clothing. As is typical with a department store, a majority of the salesfloor seemed to be dedicated to women's clothing, but I didn't pay enough attention to the layout of the store to be able to tell you which section was juniors, which was plus size, petite, maternity, sportswear, etc.

The women's shoe department was located along the middle of the left-side wall of the store, separate from that of the children's shoe section which was closer to the back right corner. I don't recall seeing a dedicated men's shoe department, although it's possible the store carried some men's shoes somewhere.

A shot down the center actionway, which slices the store in half horizontally. As a matter of fact, there was another center actionway which divides the store vertically as well; at the intersection of both was the jewelry counter, seen here from afar.

Looking toward the back wall of the store from near women's shoes. The collective home department is visible in the background on the left.

The remainder of the women's department could be found occupying the front left corner of the store, which we're just stepping into in this photo. Looks like I found sportswear, at least: see the shelving on the wall on the left of the shot!

Here's a look over toward the front entrance and the customer service desk directly inside of it. This was probably the best shot I got of either, since these were the only registers open and most of the activity in the store was subsequently concentrated in this area.

From deeper in the women's department at the front left corner of the store, here's another shot looking back toward the front entrance. This wasn't the most modern-looking store, obviously, but it had a nice old-school charm to it.

To my surprise, women's clothing racks continued even beyond the designated carpeted area into this small hallway leading toward an exit on the left side of the store. Judging by the signage, JCPenney used this area to house their Red Zone Clearance merchandise...

...but its original purpose was to serve as the store's catalog package pick-up area! Here you can see the likely-original wooden desk setup still intact, albeit devoid of computers or employees. There was one employee in the room visible through that cubbyhole in the wall, however.

An old wooden door on the left side of the hallway denotes additional offices. The restrooms and water fountains were located on this side of the hallway, too.

Another look at the wooden desk. I was fascinated by this area, as you can probably tell. I love finding retail relics, after all! Note the phones on the wall and the lightboxes housing JCP.com posters (not their original advertisements, of course).

One last view down the catalog package pick-up corridor. I liked this shot in particular, what with the natural light streaming in from the exterior entrance illuminating all the old-school goodies like that desk and the tube TV/security camera in the top right.

Back out of that hallway and reentering the higher-ceilinged main salesfloor now, where we're looking toward the women's fitting rooms in the front left corner. These appear to have gotten an updated sign in recent years, unlike the fitting rooms back in the children's department.

Speaking of the children's department, its mirrored wall is visible once more in the back right of this pic, as we take a look from the front of the store toward the aforementioned jewelry counter at the intersection of the two cross-floor actionways.

Here's a shot of a purse display diagonal from the jewelry counter. Purses and additional accessories were housed immediately around the jewelry counter, near the center of the store.  I like how the tall, built-in white shelving units are shaped to mimic the angled design of the jewelry counter.

A blurry view from that same vantage point, turned around and facing the front of the store. As you can well see, we've made it back over to the men's department...

...and the front right corner of the store for a few additional views we didn't see our first time around, including this one looking down the front actionway toward the store's main entrance.

A similar photo to the previous, this time just including the liquidation signage hanging from the ceiling. As I said earlier, putting these signs up was premature on JCPenney's part, but may well have been a marketing ploy whereby JCP corporate or this location's managers (whichever party made the decision) assumed hanging these signs prior to the closure would drive up sales in the interim before the true sale began. I'll give credit where credit's due, that's smart thinking - and, assuming it was indeed something done chainwide, it must have been effective, too, since increased sales at its 138 affected locations following the initial closing announcement is what drove JCPenney to delay the liquidation dates for those stores!
Angled slightly more to the right for this shot, which is otherwise admittedly not much different from the previous two. Though the store wasn't that busy on my visit regardless, I appear to have been taking advantage of the people-free situation around me at this point, haha!
Finally shifting completely to the right for this picture, where we can see back into the mirrored-wall children's department and the former mall entrance in front of that. Looks like I've also managed to locate the store's selection of men's shoes after all!

Given that I found some clothes to purchase (as mentioned earlier in the post), I had to try them on - and, naturally, figured why not take some photos of the fitting rooms? The men's fitting rooms were located in the front right corner of the store - just like women's were in the front left, and children's in the back right.

More or less a random shot here, but I decided not to cut it anyway. You're looking at one of the pin holders in one of the individual dressing rooms. No explicit JCPenney branding here, but it still looks like their font. I'm unsure if this would've been original to the store, though.

As a matter of fact, I'm unsure if anything about these fitting rooms were original to the store per se, but they sure look it! The simplicity and really plain colors, as well as wooden doors and hanging racks, certainly don't match the more modern materials and colors used in stores these days.

Outside of the fitting rooms and looking straight down the store's right-side wall: another shot similar to one shown earlier in this post. Can't believe I didn't notice that small area of mirrored wall (just to the right of the mall entrance) here in the men's department any earlier! I wonder if the entire store was paneled like that once upon a time - boy, that would've been something else, I bet!

For this photo we've moved into the center horizontal actionway, and are looking straight-on at the former mall entrance one last time. There's definitely a light source out there, illuminating the frosted glass window panels, so I moved a little closer to see if I could get any peeks through the glass before leaving the store altogether. And thankfully...

...getting so close allowed me to notice a slight crack between the panels where two of them weren't completely connected to each other, which in turn let me capture this brief glimpse into the former mall corridor! It's not much, but it's enough to see a whole lot of boxes stacked immediately in front of the former mall entrance. You can also see the inside of the same fence visible in this photo, taken through the Oxford Mall's shuttered left-side entrance right beside this store.

Photo courtesy
For an idea of what this corridor looked like before it was covered up, it's Mike Kalasnik again to the rescue! As with before, this photo comes from April 2015, so the work done to hide this view into the mall corridor must've been carried out fairly recently, and almost certainly by Ole Miss rather than JCPenney judging by the fact that the latter seemed content with leaving this view visible (if not accessible) to the public for a number of years after the mall itself closed up shop. I'd be interested to know if the mall interior's JCPenney sign is still hanging up above this entrance!

Returning our focus to what we can see with no effort (as opposed to that inline mall corridor!), here we've turned around and are looking once more at the customer service counter facing the former mall entrance. I liked how this shot turned out as well. Makes a lot of difference not having the signage blurred by extreme glare from a spotlight, lol!

Back at the front for a couple more photos while I checked out and prepared to leave. Above, as well as below, we're looking into the women's department at the front left corner of the store one final time, with the catalog package pick-up hallway visible in each picture.

Another reason JCPenney may have decided to hang these store closing signs all across the salesfloor earlier than the liquidation sale truly began might be because they were looking to capitalize on the crowds liquidations tend to bring in. Yes, that argument sounds very similar to what I posited earlier, but what I'm trying to say here is, I believe how store closures work is that all of the store's merchandise becomes property of the liquidator on the day the sale begins, and as a result, all profits made during the liquidation go not to the store but instead to the party overseeing its closure. By hanging these signs up early (and then delaying the sales, of course), JCPenney may have been looking to earn some of those profits for itself before turning everything over to their liquidators. But again, I'm not 100% sure if that's how things work; I've just heard or read that somewhere in the past.

Finally from the interior, our parting view is (ironically) what others see first when entering the store's vestibule, a three-tiered promotional sign holder stand now displaying three of those infamous red and yellow liquidation posters. On the plus side (or, more accurately, "the bright side"), the natural light that this many-windowed vestibule let into the store was very neat!

Back outside again for several more exterior shots. This first one attempts to take a straight-on look at the entryway façade, but I screwed it up with that tree on the left... :/

Here are a couple of better shots, angled from some different directions. There was an interesting mix of mature shrubbery and... well... dead nothingness over here. I imagine the former dates back to the Oxford Mall days, while the latter is a result of Ole Miss likely not wanting to pay exorbitant landscaping expenses on this property since they're using it as a commuter parking lot.

Speaking of which: here are a couple of shots of how the parking lot is divided between the university's Park-N-Ride system and regular mall customers, dubbed "commercial parking" here. The white spaces - which take up the majority of the parking lot, of course - belong to the former party, while the comparatively few yellow spaces belong to customers of the Malco and soon-to-be-former JCPenney.

With this 33,796 square foot space now set to become empty in a matter of weeks, it'll be interesting to see how it is utilized in the future. As mentioned before, a very good possibility is that Ole Miss will absorb the space into its "Jackson Avenue Center," the collective name it has given to its operations out of the former Wal-Mart building and mall corridor at the other end of the complex (again, more on that in my original Oxford Mall blog post at this link). My personal theory on how this space could be better reused and remain in the retail realm, however, is that Target could move in. These days they seem to be focusing on their "flex" stores anyway (for those who are unfamiliar with the concept, this mainly involves renovating existing structures into smaller-format Target stores rather than building their heretofore traditional brand-new, large-format stores), and a Target store in Oxford would almost certainly perform well, given the college crowd composed of students from all over the country who likely are used to having, and shopping at, Target stores near them. In fact, there are several posts online from people begging for a Target in Oxford, and this location right across from the university is definitely a prime spot. But then again, the Oxford Mall surely thought the same thing and wound up failing, and given the retail expansion all along Jackson Avenue in recent years, if Target really wanted to open a store in Oxford, they've already had several chances in which they could've feasibly done so. But it's worth throwing out there as an idea nonetheless. If you know me, you know I'm always speculating about how to recycle shuttered stores into new ones, regardless of whether it actually comes true, haha!

Along the side of the building (after rounding that front left corner seen in the previous set of photos) is JCP's auxiliary entrance (into that little hallway shown earlier), complete with seemingly-miniature versions of the façade overhang and building signage as seen on the front of the store (although the latter is not set onto the former over on this side, as opposed to the setup on the true storefront itself).

At the very back of the JCPenney, I grabbed these two photos. The first shows one of two old package pick-up signs on this side of the store, as well as a view into the property in the background. There's a rather severe dip in elevation back there, but it appears that some developers might be trying to make something of it - or at least, there was definitely some work taking place there on my April 13th visit. Then, the second shot looks into the small parking lot along the side of the JCPenney building. As I recall, this lot looked mostly untouched by Ole Miss, as opposed to the main mall parking lot in front of the complex. This may have been exclusively reserved for commercial parking, in fact, although if it turned out that there were also Park-N-Ride spaces over here it wouldn't surprise me.

A few shots looking back up along the store's left-side wall as we move on over that way again, including the last one zoomed-in to show the Ole Miss water tower in the background.

Here's a close-up of the surviving JCPenney Catalog Package Pick-up sign beside its designated entrance on this side of the store, as well as the second of those two street signs advertising the same thing.

I was pretty proud of this shot, showing a close-up of the smaller JCPenney sign with the clouds reflecting on it :)  I definitely like the red logo and tan paint better on this building than that white logo/black paint scheme shown at the top of this post...

Some final, drawn-back exterior shots encompassing the entire store as viewed from the parking lot...

 ...and last but not least, the top of my receipt from this visit, for posterity. (Again - yes, those prices were prior to the liquidation!)

Well, sayonara to the Oxford JCPenney; I sincerely hope that all of the store's employees are able to find work elsewhere soon, or else receive generous retirement packages. This post also marks the conclusion of my two-part series on the Oxford Mall, which I suppose we can also say "sayonara" to with this store's closure given that it was the last original store from the mall remaining in operation... :(

...A sad ending to this post for sure, but to put you in higher spirits: until next time (which I promise to be a really great post!), have fun exploring the retail world wherever you are!

Retail Retell