Wednesday, June 26, 2019

JCPenney Closing (Chickasaw Plaza), Blytheville, AR

Today's post highlights Mississippi County, AR, retail.

For each of the past two summers, the Mid-South Retail Blog has brought you coverage of a closing JCPenney store from somewhere within the region. You'll recall that the year 2017 saw a closure list some 138 locations large, a handful of which were scattered throughout the Mid-South, including stores in both Oxford and Greenville, Mississippi. Also included in that list were stores in Corinth and Columbus, Mississippi, as well as Union City, Tennessee, but I personally managed to visit only one more liquidating Mid-South JCPenney during that round of closures: the store in Blytheville, Arkansas. (Over on flickr, though, l_dawg2000 has an album from the Corinth store, if you're interested.)

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe this post marks the blog's very first foray into any of its Arkansas counties! It's long overdue, I admit, and unfortunately I'm sad to say it's also the only Arkansas post I foresee for the near future; I simply don't make it over to that portion of the Mid-South that often (nor do I stray very far into Tennessee, honestly). As always, however, if you live in or visit any of our counties - or anyplace beyond the Mid-South, for that matter - and have a retail story to tell or scene you photographed, please feel free to share it with us at midsouthretailblog [at] gmail [dot] com and I'll be happy to publish it here on the blog. It's about time the rest of the Mid-South gets some better documentation on this site!

Anyway, moving on... my visit to Blytheville took place on July 17th, 2017, and its first and foremost purpose was to allow me to enjoy experiencing and photographing the town's Kroger store, which is the last one in the region, and perhaps the country, to feature the chain's 1990s neon décor package. I already shared those photos with you on flickr a while back; you can (re)visit them in this album. But while we were in town, knowing that the JCPenney was closing, I also made sure to stop there in order to document it as well.

A majority of the stores JCPenney targeted for closure in 2017 were smaller format locations, stores that weren't big enough to carve out space for the chain's most coveted in-store initiatives, such as Sephora store-within-a-store outfits and appliance departments. (Of course, under new leadership JCPenney has since bailed on those appliance departments, but that's neither here nor there where this post is concerned.) Blytheville's JCPenney is interesting in that it was housed in a former Wal-Mart building at the southwest corner of the Main Street/I-55 interchange; once Wal-Mart relocated to a new Supercenter at the northeast corner of the same interchange, JCPenney took over the old Wal-Mart for a store of their own. But the catch is that, while the whole building likely would have been well-suited for a full-scale JCPenney store, JCPenney instead opted to occupy only a small portion of the space. A Spring 2001 edition of "The Belz Report" explains:

Over a decade ago, Belz Enterprises strengthened its retail experience by joining forces with Bruce Burrow, a developer of national commercial retail space based in Jonesboro, Arkansas. ... Belz•Burrow is currently renovating Caraway Plaza Shopping Center in Jonesboro, Arkansas and Chickasaw Plaza Shopping Center in Blytheville, Arkansas. 
Chickasaw Plaza Shopping Center, once occupied by Wal-Mart, has been renovated into a multi-retailer shopping center. J.C. Penney Company opened a 34,000-square-foot mini-department store at the site on March 7, 2001, and Belz•Burrow is negotiating with other national retailers to fill the remaining space. 
Chickasaw Plaza Shopping Center is conveniently located across from Porter Commons Shopping Center, the largest strip shopping center in Northeast Arkansas. The 332,844-square-foot Belz•Burrow development houses Wal-Mart, Hibbetts Sporting Goods, Freidman Jewelers and Hallmark. In total, Belz•Burrow owns and manages 427,437 square feet of property in Blytheville, making the company the largest commercial property owner in Mississippi County.

Photo showing the former Wal-Mart building after JCPenney's opening, with the rest of the building still vacant. Circa 2001. Courtesy Belz Enterprises

Photo showing the former Wal-Mart building after JCPenney's opening, with the rest of the building still vacant. Note the vintage Taco Bell in the bottom left corner as well! It has since been renovated. Image source unknown

Photo showing the former Wal-Mart building after JCPenney's opening, with the rest of the building still vacant. Image source unknown

Photo showing the former Wal-Mart building after JCPenney's opening, with the rest of the building still vacant. Image source unknown

Yes, you read that correctly: JCPenney considered its Blytheville location to be only a "mini" department store. Perhaps if it had opened a regular, full-size JCPenney in the former Wal-Mart, it would have survived longer; or, maybe, it would have failed sooner - who knows. In any case, the store would be selected for closure in the summer of 2017, as already noted. My photos of the liquidation sale follow.

We begin by taking a quick look at the remainder of the former Wal-Mart building, to the left of JCPenney (which chose to occupy the right side of the structure). Obviously, this space would eventually be subdivided and redeveloped for new retailers just like the JCPenney portion was, but I'll talk a little more about that later on in this post.

Focusing on the JCPenney storefront now, as we prepare to head inside. This particular exterior design seems common for early to mid-2000s JCPenney stores, as it (or a modified version thereof) can be found at the two newer of the three stores in the Memphis metropolitan area (Southaven Towne Center and Centennial Commons). But here in Blytheville, it was looking pretty heavily sunbaked by the time of my visit, after sitting in the path of direct sunlight for over 16 years. The new lighter paint job given to the rest of the structure seems a bit more appropriate than the rust red color the JCPenney received.

The first department I encountered upon walking in was the jewelry counter, seen here from its right side and glancing back across toward the front entrance. Given that the affected stores would close by the end of July 2017, my visit on July 17th was cutting it pretty close to the final week. As a result, the jewelry cases were almost completely empty...

...and a good bit of merchandise had been consolidated further along the salesfloor as well (a practice carried out in most liquidation sales, bringing what merchandise remains closer to the front of the store), meaning it was pretty difficult for me to know exactly which departments were located where, back when the store was operating normally. For example, in the above two photos it appears we've got an amalgamation of both men's and women's clothing, and lingerie. Surely those weren't all located in the same area before!

Facing the opposite direction now - that is, toward the back of the store, as opposed to the front (as was seen in all of the prior interior images thus far). Here we can see the merchandise begin to fizzle out: the edge of the consolidation line, as it were.

Beyond the remaining merchandise, the salesfloor space became home to the collection of store fixtures waiting to be sold, as shown in part in the above two photos. Those two images should also give you a better idea of how the store was laid out, with departments lining the perimeter wall as well as placed within the center of the salesfloor, with cut-through actionways located throughout for customer convenience. And check out that old tube TV playing the security footage! I thought those seemed a little old for the store at the time I visited, but then again, I was under the impression then that this store had opened more recently than 2001. It all makes sense now!

Toward the back of the store's right-hand side was this little hallway leading to an unassuming set of double doors, marked as "emergency exit only" on the inside but actually located beneath a secondary facade on the outside (as you'll see later in this post), indicating that at one point it may well have been an additional entrance into the store. Also, it is my assumption that the door you see on the left leads into the store's backroom space, likely home to things like the stockroom, manager's office, employee breakroom, etc.

This shot turned out totally blurry, but I wanted to include it anyway because I wasn't able to get a clear shot of the same scene. As best as I can tell, this is simply looking back along the right-side wall at the areas we've already seen, including the fixture sales area in the foreground and the consolidated apparel departments past that.

A look across one of those center cut-through actionways I mentioned. This one must be located closer to the rear of the store than the front, based on the timestamp of the photo and the location of the other photos I took around the same time; otherwise, it's hard to tell where anything is in this place, what with the lack of any distinctive markings amongst all those slatted walls! I can at least make out what appears to be a fitting room door on the left of this pic, though...

A-ha - I'm confident that this shot is located at the back of the store, thanks to the way the actionway dead-ends at those stockroom doors! Kind of an awkward hallway, but JCPenney was making do with what they had, I suppose. And on that note: at the very top left of the shot, check out all the different lighting shapes and positions. I have absolutely zero clue if those lights, the drop ceiling, or anything at all inside this store remained from the Wal-Mart days. If any of you might know, drop a line in the comments!

Taking a look across the rear actionway, followed by a peek into what was evidently the "FAMILY SHOE" department, located in that little cubbyhole formed by the hallways leading to the stockroom doors on the right and customer service on the left, respectively. Plenty more fixtures to be found back here, y'all - it was practically a graveyard!

Also be sure to note just how short the actionway seems in the first image of the pair above. That's not an optical illusion - this store was considerably narrower than it was wide. However, that's not really saying much, either, since as you saw in that earlier excerpt, JCPenney only occupied 34,000 square feet here... for comparison, most of our Kroger stores in the Mid-South are double or triple that size!

Here's a view out across the right half of the salesfloor, as seen from the erstwhile shoe department. I'm assuming that the shelving wall you see on the right side of this shot is located in a spot even with the center of the store, which would place the store's left half out of view from this angle. Nonetheless, even with only one half visible, we can still see pretty much the whole story: a whole buncha fixtures piled up in the back, and a whole buncha store closing signs hanging from the ceiling near the front!

Here's somewhat of a glance down the corridor leading to customer services, although given the angle I took this shot from, it seems much less straight-on than it could have been (oh well!). In the foreground you can see some of the more miscellaneous fixtures, such as the various binders you see on that bookcase.

Just like the store's right half two photos back, I made sure the left half got its photo taken, too :)  Whereas apparel dominated the side of the store we walked in on, it would seem this opposite side was home to the other, home goods departments. As a result, it was even more wiped out at the time of my visit.

This pic is a good companion to the one I showed you earlier that traversed the store's width: here, you can see its length. Again, this store was by no means large. You can definitely see how JCPenney would never have been able to fit a Sephora inside this location!

I found this scene mildly interesting, with the mirrors on the ground placed at approximately the same angle as the "fixtures for sale" sign on that easel. Plus, I wanted to capture said sign in a close-up shot. You don't seem to see them at eye level too often.

Looking once more toward the front of the store. Another of those tube TVs made the cut in this shot! I'm not sure what those two skinny black poles are all about, though. They appear to be affixed to both the floor and the ceiling, but I'm pretty certain they're not actual support columns. Again, if you have any idea, let us know in the comments.

Glancing back at the fixtures housed in the back left quadrant of the salesfloor. The one with the fake windows is particularly interesting. I'm going to assume that was used as a window curtain display.

Note also the style of shelving along the wall in the background, confirming this area once stocked home merchandise.

Some views from within the carpeting, finally stepping away from the tiled actionway for once. More or less the entire selection of home merchandise that remained is, I believe, captured in these two photos, on those four lone display units. It was down to just bedding, bathmats, and rugs, from the looks of it. I suppose that means the sale had gone pretty well in the prior weeks!

One more view toward the front, followed by a view across one of the center cut-through actionways back over toward the right-side wall. Fixtures, fixtures everywhere! Oh, and some skull caps, too.

What remained of children's clothing was placed right nearby that fixture holding the skull caps (see two photos prior to this one), and beyond that, some additional women's apparel took up the rest of the space between the jewelry counter and the invisible-but-clearly-present "fixture sale barrier."

Note also the still-intact "Red Zone Clearance" signs that have been visible in a handful of these shots. These signs speak of discounts in the 50, 70, and 80 percent off ranges, so while they logically should have been removed at the onset of the liquidation, I guess one could argue the message was still applicable to this situation, at least by the time of my visit when the actual liquidation percentages had indeed risen that high!

A look back at the jewelry counter as we prepare to walk back outside, followed by a final, pulled-back view of (what I believe to be) the only checkout queue in the store, as viewed literally while exiting the building. (I didn't want any employees to see me taking any shots of the registers, but wanted to be sure to capture them in at least one pic! Thought the "New Price Reductions" sash across the "Nothing Held Back!" sign behind that tube TV was interesting, too.)

Oh, and yes, those are all adult coloring items in the bottom left of the top image of this pair. Merchandisers really hopped on the adult coloring trend bandwagon with fervor, but it seemed the trend died out before they were able to truly profit much from it. Or, alternatively, adults simply stuck to coloring books for their coloring needs, rather than random crap like coffee cups! But I digress...

Stepping outside, here's a look along the store's right-side wall, where down in the distance we can see that secondary facade I referred to earlier (back at the photo of the emergency exit doors). Even though said doors were marked as emergency exits, it appears some sort of activity was taking place down that way in this pic; I wonder if an employee and customer were using this as a fixture pick-up location. Saves them from having to drag stuff all the way to the front, after all!

If any of you thought the previous image looked a little strange, that's because it is: as it turns out, the side of the store that JCPenney took over just happened to be the side that was home to the former Wal-Mart's outdoor garden center. Obviously, JCPenney removed the garden center structure, but instead of actually expanding the existing building, they left everything as-is, leaving a rather sizable concrete slab between the store and the adjoining parking spaces on this side of the lot. No wonder that secondary entrance was closed off, no one would be inclined to use it with this odd-looking setup in the way! At best, this could be considered just a reaaaaally big sidewalk; at worst, it's a concrete wasteland.

For completion's sake, here's one final look at the JCPenney storefront. Note that the "Store Closing!" banner was placed along the right side instead of the front; since that side faces Main Street, perhaps they figured they could attract more customers from that road as opposed to I-55 (a "locals vs. traveling motorists" argument seems to have good merit in this situation).

Also, from this angle, that white paint is looking even worse than the red paint. This store really had a hard time, exterior-appearance-wise :(

Out at the edge of the parking lot, furthest away from JCPenney, we find this relic of the Wal-Mart days: the old Wal-Mart pylon sign, still standing! The "Wal-Mart" part is no longer intact, but the "Pharmacy" part beneath it is, complete with old font: pretty cool find, I thought!

My last shot from the property is this wide view of the entire former Wal-Mart building, featuring JCPenney on the right, Citi Trends and Shoe Carnival in the middle, and Dirt Cheap on the left, characteristically keeping the old Wal-Mart facade intact. As I alluded to earlier, the latter three retailers all moved in after JCPenney: as in, many years later. Since we're on the topic, let's quickly talk about that for a moment.

I'm unsure when exactly Wal-Mart closed and relocated to the nearby Supercenter building. Judging by the exterior design of said Supercenter, though, I'd guess it wasn't long at all before 2001, when JCPenney took over the right side of the old, non-super building (possibly the same year, even). But after that, as noted, JCPenney was the lone retailer to occupy this building for many years, despite the developers' hopes that it could be transformed into a full-fledged shopping center. Whatever the setbacks may have been, the plans were never dropped; they simply seemed to have trouble ever materializing. Finally, though, in 2014 the luck changed.

Courtesy NEA Town Courier

In September of that year, the NEA Town Courier reported that "Two new retailers have officially signed leases for Chickasaw Plaza," the shopping center moniker applied to the former Wal-Mart building. "Dollar Tree will be returning to Blytheville at this site, building a new construction out in the parking area, and new retailer, Dirt Cheap, will be renovating to locate inside the existing structure, opposite J.C. Penney ... the Blytheville store will be its first Arkansas location."

In the above image, shared alongside that article, you can see Wal-Mart's old blue paint job starting to show through the red color the building received when JCPenney moved in. Soon thereafter, thankfully, the rest of the building (besides JCPenney) was repainted, when in early 2015 the Courier reported "Construction work has begun to transform the face of Chickasaw Plaza." At this time, it became clear that two additional storefronts would be joining Dirt Cheap and JCPenney; and it was announced that those storefronts would be occupied by Citi Trends and Shoe Carnival.

Construction work taking place, early 2015. Courtesy NEA Town Courier

Citi Trends sign being installed. Courtesy NEA Town Courier 

Finished product. Image source unknown

Finished product. Image source unknown

The new stores were a welcome rejuvenation to the former Wal-Mart building, especially after so much of it had sat vacant for so long. In addition to this location being Dirt Cheap's first Arkansas store, Blytheville proved special to Shoe Carnival, too: check out this excerpt from the Evansville, Indiana, Courier and Press...

It's still early in the game, but Shoe Carnival says it's seeing good results from its new small-market store concept. 
Until now, the Evansville-based retailer has put its stores in areas with market populations between 150,000 and 250,000. 
In June, the company announced it would begin opening stores in towns that it previously would have rejected as too small. The new stores, at 5,000 square feet each, are about half the size of a traditional Shoe Carnival. 
Company executives say they've opened their first two small-market stores and are pleased with their performance. One store, in Blytheville, Arkansas, opened during the third quarter. The other, in Marion, Indiana, opened this quarter. 
"We are happy to report both stores are performing above expectations," Shoe Carnival President and Chief Executive Officer Cliff Sifford said during a quarterly earnings call with analysts Monday. 
"We're watching those stores very, very closely, and we are excited about it. ... I think we have a tremendous opportunity, based on the early results."

That article was published on November 30, 2015, and unfortunately since that time the Blytheville Shoe Carnival has closed up shop (I guess the experiment ultimately didn't pan out, at least here in Blytheville anyway). But still, it's cool to know that this shopping center brought so many firsts to the city and these retailers!

Before we move on, here are just a few images of the JCPenney in its final 10 days, which I found at that same image source I've been captioning as "unknown." I know they are all from a lease listing website, but I can't remember which one...

JCPenney's final 10 days. Image source unknown

JCPenney's final 10 days. Image source unknown

JCPenney's final 10 days. Image source unknown

With the departure of both Shoe Carnival and JCPenney, poor Chickasaw Plaza seemed to take a significant blow, losing two of its four former Wal-Mart building tenants not that long after the whole structure had finally become fully tenanted. Thankfully, however, it wouldn't take long for at least one of those spaces to be relet: in November 2018, just over a year after JCPenney closed, Northeast Arkansas locally-owned chain Gamble Home Furnishings celebrated the grand opening of its new Ashley Homestore in the former JCPenney space in Blytheville. Images of that new store, sourced from various social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Google Maps, and Yelp, follow below.

Front exterior wide view. Note Ashley's repaint. The facade looks so much better now!

Second Ashley Homestore logo on the front right corner of the building.

Gamble Home sign next to JCPenney's former secondary entrance-turned-emergency exit. I've no idea if this door is now open to the public again, but at least the new sign is both a nice way to make use of the facade that's there, and to get the owner's/franchisee's branding up there.

Interior construction, 2018.

Interior construction, 2018.

Interior construction, 2018.

Ribbon cutting, November 2018.

Grand opening, November 2018.

Grand opening, November 2018.

Grand opening, November 2018.

Grand opening, November 2018.

Grand opening, November 2018.

Interior, finished product. I don't really know how this store is laid out in relation to the JCPenney days, but you can see that Ashley did do a pretty thorough renovation, including changing out the floor and adding all those new divider walls.

Interior, finished product.

Interior, finished product.

Exterior front facade close-up.

Final exterior view (and finally a high-resolution photo!)

And lastly, a view of the Chickasaw Plaza roadside sign, showing all of the shopping center's current tenants (minus the now-vacant Shoe Carnival, of course).

That will do it for this post on the Blytheville JCPenney, the third and final entry to my summer 2017 JCPenney liquidation sale series. I'm glad the space was able to be retenanted so soon by Ashley Homestore, and I hope you all enjoyed the blog's first foray into Arkansas with this post!

Before you go, a few quick updates... if you're ever confused by some of the terms I use - either here on the blog or over at my flickr photostream - I encourage you to check out this "retail glossary" page, which is now also permanently linked on the blog's sidebar beneath my list of other recommended blogs (and above the invite to "The Retail Union" on Discord, which is another new feature). The glossary is the idea and property of DZ's Retail Blog, but I was happy to contribute a number of terms and definitions to that list recently. I think it's a really cool idea and will hopefully be a valuable resource to those unfamiliar with some of the things we in the online retail community drone on about sometimes :)

And speaking of my blog sidebar and that list of other recommended blogs, I really do encourage y'all to check those out as well! There's TONS of great content to be found at all those sites, authored by many folks I've become friends with through this hobby. If you're looking for blogs that post very often (as in, much more frequently than yours truly XD ), I'd suggest sites like The Market Report, Northwest Retail Blog (both of which update daily), Broken Chains Blog, Philadelphia Retail with PlazaACME, Twin Tiers Retail, My Florida Retail (where I am also a contributor), and Albertsons Florida Blog. But again, literally ALL of those blogs are hosts of awesome content that I personally enjoy reading and think you would, too. So if you haven't checked them out yet, give them a try! (And of course, don't forget that there are a lot of follow-worthy photostreams with regular content over on flickr as well.)

Thanks again for reading the Mid-South Retail Blog. Be on the lookout for another new post soon, and as always, have fun exploring the retail world wherever you are!

Retail Retell