Once 'every person's store' in Enid, JCPenney to close for good Sunday

The JCPenney store in Oakwood Mall will close Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020.

ENID, Okla. — Everything must go when JCPenney closes its doors for good Sunday at Oakwood Mall, after more than a century in business in Enid.

All store items in the chain department store are currently 80%-90% off in its final three days in business, according to signs hanging or posted throughout the building.

The store will be open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. Special shopping times for those at risk to COVID-19 are from 11 a.m. to noon.

Masks are required for entering the store, though several customers were seen shopping without masks.

J.C. Penney Co. Inc. announced in June it was closing six stores in Oklahoma, including Enid’s. Others announced to be closing were in McAlester, Midwest City, Muskogee, Shawnee and Tulsa. Closing sales began later in the month.

The company announced in May it had filed for bankruptcy protection to implement a financial restructuring plan with 70% lien-debt lenders to reduce outstanding debt.

Enid store managers directed any media comments to the corporate media office, in Plano, Texas, but representatives were unable to be reached by phone late Thursday afternoon.

The store opened at Oakwood Mall in 1984 after leaving its original location across from the courthouse lawn in downtown Enid.

James Cash Penney gave an associate, Gus Ely, $12,000 to find a location in Oklahoma to open a new store, general manager Karen Spain told the News & Eagle in 2018. Ely purchased property at 108 W. Randolph and the store opened on April 13, 1918. At that time, there were 170 stores in America.

JCPenney was once the place to go downtown, said Lindy Chambers, Main Street Enid’s executive director from 2001 to 2012, who moved to Enid as a teenager in the early 1960s, she said.

Having come from a Native American reservation with no stores in Arizona, she said downtown Enid was like a “mecca of anchor stores.” Business owners worked downtown, ate downtown and shopped downtown, she said.

“I loved Penney’s. It was every person’s store. It wasn’t too highfalutin, and it wasn’t too cheap," Chambers said. "It was like a carnival almost, where you could go visit and look at everything. You were treated with respect, you were given hands-on, personal care. It was true of all stores back then."

Stores such as JCPenney, Sears, Newman’s and Woolworth all called downtown Enid home and made the area a shopping destination — before malls sprung up across the United States in the 1980s, including in Northwest Oklahoma, and downtowns lost the attention of business owners and shoppers alike.

“My kids think of the mall as the place they’d shop,” she said. “They don’t have the nostalgia we have connected to downtown.”

Now it seems the reverse is happening, Chambers said.

Since Main Street Enid was founded in 1994, she said, downtown Enid has experienced a growth of activity in retailers and restaurants, while Oakwood Mall, facing stiffer competition from online retailers, is losing its third and final anchor store. Dillard’s closed last year, while Sears closed in 2015.

Now there won’t be anywhere to shop for higher-end men’s clothing, said Glen Richards, who was loading a shoe shelf he’d bought into his Chevy pickup Thursday evening in the parking lot outside JCPenney.

Richards had heard the store also as selling all its fixtures, so he got the already-made shelf at 50% original price and said he was going to put it in the workshop in his “man cave."

Richards moved to Enid in 1974, 10 years before JCPenney moved to the mall.

“It was a big deal at the time,” he said, while looking for a wrench to take out the adjustable shelf pins.

“Every day, it seems like somebody’s moving out,” Richards said. “It’s kind of sad for the ones still here. It’s sad for Enid. But it is what it is.”

Next steps for employees

Enid’s location hosted a job fair Wednesday afternoon for its 30 or so remaining employees. About 20 attended and received bags with more than 150 local job listings, directions on unemployment and insurance benefits and other program resources, provided by Western Oklahoma Workforce Development Board.

“We like to have employers there, but we weren’t allowed to have employers there,” because of COVID-19 precautions with the size of the location, said Christi Porter, the board’s executive director. “Once we give them a bag, we want to put Oklahomans back to work again.”

Such fairs are federally mandated with rapid response — when businesses lay off one employee or a large number, and then file a warn notice with the state, Porter said. The Oklahoma Works regional office, located in Woodward, covers 25 counties, including Garfield County.

Those seeking more unemployment assistance and information on the WOWDB’s partner programs — such as the state’s Department of Rehabilitation, Employment Security Commission or the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act’s Title 1 — can contact Porter’s office at (580) 256-8553, or the local workforce office in CDSA’s downtown Non-Profit Center at (580) 234-0643.

The WOWDB’s next job fair in Enid, a drive-through “Trunk or Treat” event, will be 1-3 p.m. Oct. 28, 2020, in Oakwood Mall’s parking lot. Attendees also will receive bags with job openings, business coupons and partner program resources.

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Ewald is copy editor and city reporter for the Enid News & Eagle. Follow him on Twitter, @oualexewald.

Have a question about this story? Do you see something we missed? Do you have a story idea for Alexander? Send an email to aewald@enidnews.com.

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