Backstory: Wyoming-born J.C. Penney thrived for decades in Casper (Photos) - Casper, WY Oil City News
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Backstory: Wyoming-born J.C. Penney thrived for decades in Casper (Photos)

The J.C. Penney building is seen on the corner of East Second Street and Wolcott Street in 1942, shortly after it opened. It was built on the spot of the old post office. The building was heavily remodeled and became the Atrium Plaza after J.C. Penney moved to the then-new Eastridge Mall in 1982. (Casper College Western History Center)

CASPER, Wyo. – A little store started in Kemmerer, Wyoming, grew up to be one of the biggest retailers in the country.

Now, along with so many legacy retailers, its buckling under the weight of online disruption and a global pandemic.

J.C. Penney traces its roots to what’s now called “the Mother Store” in Kemmerer. Started by James Cash Penney in 1902 and named Golden Rule, the store sold assorted dry goods in growing pioneer towns.

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Casper’s first J.C. Penney was located at 125 East Second Street where Lou Taubert Ranch Outfitters is currently located. It was originally named Golden Rule Dry Goods. The building is seen here in 1932 in a Casper Tribune-Harold feature announcing their “grand reopening” after a remodel. The store moved a block east after their new building was constructed in 1942.

Casper’s Golden Rule opened in 1926. Within a few years the stores were rebranded J.C. Penney and eventually dotted every corner of the country.

Casper’s J.C. Penney first occupied a couple of floors in a building on 125 East Second Street, eventually occupying all four floors.

In 1941 construction started on the site of the old Post Office on Second and Wolcott for a new J.C. Penney building, no doubt a major undertaking during Wold War II.

The J.C. Penney building is seen under construction at right around 1941. (Don Treglown Collection, Casper College Western History Center)

In the post-war boom years the department store expanded and remodeled to meet growing demand as downtown Casper became a destination for shoppers all around the state.

Casper’s downtown followed the life cycle of most others in the country when the Eastridge Mall opened in 1982. J.C. Penney, along with Sears, became two of the new mall’s primary anchor tenants. Casper’s Montgomery Ward had also abandoned downtown, moving to the Hilltop Shopping Center.

Crowds pack into the new Eastridge Mall during its grand opening on Nov. 4, 1982. The mall enticed Sears and J.C. Penney to abandon their downtown Casper buildings and become anchor tenants. Sears closed at the end of 2018. The J.C. Penney recently reopened after temporarily closing for COVID-19. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on May 17, 2020. (Rick Sorenson, Casper Star-Tribune collection, Casper College Western History Center)

The downtown J.C. Penney was heavily remodeled and now operates as the Atrium Plaza, a collection of small shops and businesses.

After years of success, market realities have caught up to J.C. Penney. Like other large department stores in recent years, they struggled to stay relevant and reinvent during an era of rapidly changing tastes and online options.

The company, now based in Plano, Texas, temporarily closed all of their physical stores in March during the COVID-19 pandemic. Just as they planned to reopen, the company announced its Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing on May 17, 2020.

Casper’s J.C. Penney reopened on May 20 after its COVID closure. The company plans to close 242 of its stores. No long term details on Casper’s store have been announced.

People gather around a vehicle crash in the intersection of Second Street an Wolcott Street in August, 1963. The J.C. Penney is seen at center left. (Chuck Morrison Collection, Casper College Western History Center)
J.C. Penney is seen at lower left in this undated photo of downtown Casper. (Chuck Morrison Collection, Casper College Western History Center)
The sidewalk in front of Casper’s downtown J.C. Penney bustles with activity in 1970. (Chuck Morrison Collection, Casper College Western History Center)
Pedestrians hustle past the J.C. Penney in downtown Casper in July, 1970. (Chuck Morrison Collection, Casper College Western History Center)
The sidewalk along East Second Street is filled with merchandise and pedestrians in front of the downtown Casper J.C. Penney in this undated photo. (Chuck Morrison Collection, Casper College Western History Center)
A pedestrian walks through the rain in June, 1977, in downtown Casper. The J.C. Penney is seen in back. (Chuck Morrison Collection, Casper College Western History Center)
East Second Street is seen in an early 1970s color photo. At right is the J.C. Penney. Woolworth’s is seen at left, and the Wyoming National Bank building is seen refaced in metal just beyond. (Casper College Western History Center)
East Second Street in Casper is seen in Sept. 1954. Riley’s Bar is at far left, and the downtown J.C. Penney is at center. (David Collection, Casper College Western History Center)
The J.C. Penney is seen under construction at Second Street and Wolcott Street in downtown Casper around 1941. (Don Treglown Collection, Casper College Western History Center)
Second Street in downtown Casper is seen in this undated photo, likely the middle or late 1940s. The then-new J.C. Penney building is seen lower center left. The tall building formally housed Casper’s J.C. Penney before their new building. It is now Lou Taubert Ranch Outfitters. The bank building at right burned in the 1950s. (Casper College Western History Center)
The newly-completed J.C. Penney building in downtown Casper is seen circa 1942. Display windows filled with enticing new merchandise lined the sidewalk. (Carrigen Collection, Casper College Western History Center)
A 1989 Casper Star-Tribune ad celebrates J.C. Penney’s centennial. (Casper College Western History Center)
The former J.C. Penney building is now the Atrium Plaza, at right. (File Photo; Trevor T. Trujillo, Oil City News)
JCPenney has been an anchor store in the Eastridge Mall since 1982. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City File)