J.C. Penney closing Berkshire Mall store in June


LANESBOROUGH — J.C. Penney on Friday officially announced that it will close its store in the Berkshire Mall, which has occupied space in the county's largest retail shopping complex since it opened almost 29 years ago.

The store will officially close on June 18, two employees said.

It is one of 138 stores that J.C. Penney is closing nationwide as part of a plan to advance the chain's sustainable growth and long term profitability. J.C. Penney announced last month that it planned to close the stores, but didn't officially release the locations until Friday.

The Lanesborough store is the only J.C. Penney that is closing in Massachusetts, and one of just three in New England, according to the company's list. The other New England stores are located in Connecticut and Maine.

The exact number of employees at the J.C. Penney's in the Berkshire Mall could not be determined on Friday. Store Manager Ellen Quinn could not be reached for comment.

But two employees said they believed the number was around 40, and contained a mixture of full-time and mostly part-time positions. One employee, who declined to give his name, said management informed store staffers at the end of their shifts the last few days that the store would be closing. Some employees have worked at Penney's since the store opened in 1988, he said.

"Profound sadness," the employee said. "This is like home to a lot of people."

"It was depressing, but not surprising because we've been having trouble for awhile," said one long-time employee, who also declined to give his name. "It's been slow all year. When you have a holiday season that's slower than you've ever seen, making cuts is not a surprise."

He said there were warning signs that J.C. Penney planned to close its store in the mall. Quinn recently replaced long-time store manager Mike Taft, who was transferred to a store in New York state.

"Stock was coming in slower or less often," he said. "They hired a new manager. ... Some of our staple orders were not being stocked. It's a pretty good indicator."

However, two other employees said they believed the store was profitable and we're surprised it was closed. One said this year's Christmas shopping season at Penney's had been "very profitable" after Macy's closed its mall store last winter.

A statement posted on Penney's website contained no information on the criteria the chain used to determine which facilities it planned to close (Penney's is also closing a supply chain facility in Florida, and relocating another one in California). It said only that the closures were being done "to align the company's physical store footprint and omnichannel network."

Approximately 5,000 positions nationwide will be impacted by the store closures, with most of them occurring in June, the company said. Penney's is in the process of identifying relocation opportunities for some employees and will provide outplacement support services for the ones who are leaving the company. Most of the affected stores will begin liquidating merchandise in April.

Lanesborough town manager Paul Sieloff said the Select Board plans to discuss the closure at the next meeting on Monday. One of the topics to be discussed is having the Baker Road District, a local entity that is charged with the upkeep of the mall's roadway, to become more involved in economic development projects that involve the mall, Sieloff said.

Selectman John Goerlach is planning to ask J.C. Penney to reconsider its decision to close its store in the mall. Sieloff said. Goerlach could not be reached for comment on Friday.

Penney's will be the third of the mall's five anchor stores to close since October 2015, following Best Buy and Macy's. The 720,000-square-foot shopping complex is one of Lanesborough's most highly assessed properties, but the town isn't scheduled to reassess its value until January, which means any reduction in assessment wouldn't affect the town finances until fiscal 2019, which begins on July 1, 2018.

"Obviously, we're concerned," Sieloff said, regarding the recent store closings. "We want to see some activity there."

Mike Kohan, the principal of Kohan Retail Investment Group of New York, "has been getting his feet wet there," since purchasing the shopping center for $3.5 million in September, Sieloff said. Kohan Retail Investment Group specializes in purchasing and revitalizing distressed shopping centers.

Kohan did not return a telephone call seeking comment Friday, but Sieloff said town officials have had "at least one or two phone conferences with him and his staff" since he purchased the mall.

"He said this is his business dealing with malls that are economically challenged and is hoping to make a good effort," Sieloff said. "We're hoping to see a good effort."

Customers said they were sad to hear that J.C. Penney is closing.

"We love it," said Jenny Chung, of Pittsfield, who works in a nail salon in the mall. "The quality is good. It's convenient, they have my size and what I pay is just right."

"I would say I'm part stunned but not surprised," said Jim Moore, of Pittsfield, who shops at Penney's "infrequently."

"It's part of the overall decline I've seen in the mall over the years," he said.

Reach Business Editor Tony Dobrowolski at 413 496-6224.


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