James Cash Penney. It’s a good name. He was born in Missouri, a long time ago. On this date, in fact, in 1875. I wonder what Hamilton, Missouri was like in that year. My guess, is that there wasn’t a lot to do. Maybe a General Store, and some other places, like Blacksmiths, Gunsmiths, Barbers, and the like.
Something about that place must have made a mark on him. His father was a strict Baptist preacher, and made James buy his own clothes. Maybe that was part of it. Regardless, his father died and James had to support the rest of the family, so he went to work as a store clerk. And that’s where it all began.
He is know for founding J.C. Penney stores. In 1902, he opened his first store. It was called The Golden Rule Store, in Kemmerer, Wyoming. And by 1929, James opened store #1252 in Milford, Delaware. That made J.C. Penney a nationwide company — having stores in all 48 U.S. states.
His life was pretty interesting. A Freemason. Three wives, two of them dying at an early age. Kids. And on. But I won’t go into the ins and outs of that now. When I think of him, I think of his store.
As a kid, we never really went to Penney’s. The closest one was at the Salem Mall, which seemed like it was on the other side of the earth. Mom very rarely drove that far to do her shopping. I just Googled the distance. A whopping 4.5 miles from our home on East Bruce Avenue.
No, we kept it close to home. There was an Elder-Beerman’s right near Liberal’s Grocery Store. If we needed something fancy-smancy, we went to Beerman’s. But I distinctly remember the first time I went to a J.C. Penney’s. Apparently, as I mentioned, my Mom didn’t like to drive great distances. But she also didn’t like to walk from a distant parking spot. So when we parked a Penney’s we found an opening by an obscure side door. The entrance, as it turned out, was right by the candy counter, where they had fresh- popped popcorn, another warming machine with salted nuts and cashews, and of course, lines and lines of chocolates. The smell made me giddy. I thought I had just walked into a scene from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
From that time forward, that was our parking area there at the J.C. Penney’s at the Salem Mall. And we’d always walk by the candy counter. And in all the times that we visited the store, I always asked if we could get candy. Seemingly, my Mom had a strong doggedness, as I was never successful in my pleas for chocolate covered butter creams, or warm roasted cashews.
There isn’t much else I remember about the store, other than it felt very bright and open, and that there were lawn mowers sitting out, near refrigerators, and not so far from summer shorts and t-shirts. It seemed rather odd to me.
These days, of course, the department store is a dying breed. J.C Penney has closed many of its stores nationwide, and is predicting more closures in 2020. My guess, is that online shopping and to-your-door delivery will only encourage this trend.
When James Cash Penney had a heart attack, and died, in 1971, J.C. Penney was still at the top of its game. He was 95 years old then, and probably thought the store would live on in its glory.
Of course, he couldn’t have predicted things like high-speed internet, handheld phones with shopping apps, and the robotics of megastores like Amazon. Which should be a reminder to us about the unknown future, the things yet to come, the Ghost of Christmas Future, and on. Looking back, every time I passed that candy counter unsuccessful in my quest for even one caramel filled chocolate — I was certain that life would simply not go on without it. And here it is. Going on.
And each day, the best that we can do, is just that. The best that we can do. And if we can keep that in our hearts, we can be glad, and gratified by the place that we are making on this earth. The one filled with aisles and aisles of the “best that we can do.” That will never go out of business.
There is nothing permanent except change.
There is no charm equal to tenderness of heart.
— Jane Austen
What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.