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 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.
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.
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.