LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — J.C. Penney store at the Berkshire Mall will be closing, one of 138 nationwide.
The anticipated closures were announced on Feb. 24 and on Friday the company released the list of specific stores slated for closure. The mall store is the only one in Massachusetts targeted for closure; the next closest, the Penney's in Bennington, Vt., is not on the list.
Liquidation sales are expected to begin in mid-April.
J.C. Penney had announced closures was on the horizon at the end of last month. The closures represent about 13 percent of the company's store portfolio. The company said on Feb. 24 that the stores eyed for closure either needed "significant capital to achieve the company's new brand standard or are minimally cash flow positive today relative to the company's overall consolidated average." The stores identified represent less than 5 percent of annual sales, the company says.
"As part of a continuing effort to advance sustainable growth and long-term profitability, J.C. Penney Company, Inc. will be closing 138 stores, one supply chain facility in Lakeland, Fla. and relocating one supply chain facility in Buena Park, Calif., to align the company's physical store footprint and omnichannel network," reads a released issued Friday morning.
"Approximately 5,000 positions nationwide will be impacted by the store closures, most of which will occur in June. JCPenney is in the process of identifying relocation opportunities within the company for esteemed leaders. Additionally, JCPenney will provide outplacement support services for those eligible associates who will be leaving the company. Most affected stores will begin the liquidation process on April 17."
The local closure is yet another big blow to the Berkshire Mall and the town of Lanesborough. In 2015, Best Buy closed and the following year Macy's closed. Neither space has been filled since. Few anchors are left - Sears and Target remain along with Regal Cinemas.
Mall owner Mehran Kohanseih, also known as Mike Kohan, said he hoped to keep JC Penney at the mall but there wasn't much he could do about the national decision.
"It's very unfortunate. We are definitely going to find a replacement," Kohan said.
Kohan said he was made away of the company's intent a few weeks ago and he attempted to negotiate a way to keep them as a tenant. He said he does have several other companies looking to move to the mall and he'll be reaching out to them about the soon to be vacant spot.
"I was trying to keep them. My focus was on J.C. Penney," Kohan said, but now the focus will shift to finding a new tenant.
Kohan Retail Investment Group purchased the mall just seven months ago for $3.5 million. His hope when purchasing it was to revitalize it and on Friday he said that remains the plan. He will continue to seek out tenants for all of the vacant spaces.
"We just took over the project a few months ago," Kohan said. "The companies have to do their due diligence. It's a process."
For years, the mall had gone in and out of bankruptcy proceedings and changed hands twice more recently. The assessed value of the mall had dropped from as high as $60.4 million in 2008 and is now valued at $19.5 million. The closure of J.C. Penney, if the location is not filled by another tenant, would likely cause that to drop even further.
Town Manager Paul Sieloff says he remains optimistic that the mall can be successful in the future, despite the closures.
"Obviously the mall has been challenged for a while and we are hopefully the new owner will revitalize it," Sieloff said. "I do think the mall has a future."
Sieloff says it doesn't have to solely retail but that the space can be reused in creative ways. He said as long as somebody is putting up the marketing and investment efforts, the mall can be successful. Meanwhile, there is still some investment. Sieloff said a few new food places are opening.
He also cited that Target invested more than a million into its location and the movie theater close to $2 million. The town's economic development committee is working on crafting plans to help the mall, which includes a study being performed by Williams College.
As for the assessment, the town won't know the impacts for a while. The assessments are done in January and the impacts aren't known until the following fiscal year.
"We don't have an immediate impact on the assessment," Sieloff said, adding that Macy's is still paying lease bills which add to the assessment totals and he doesn't know what the J.C. Penney arrangement will be.
Nonetheless, the town had already dropped the overall assessment by $12 million in the last year and it has been a concern for town officials.
"We've been recognizing the assessed value going down," Sieloff said.
The Board of Selectmen are expected to consider writing a letter to J.C. Penney officials asking them to reconsider.
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