More than a store is going away

Published 1:07 pm Tuesday, June 9, 2020

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Do companies understand when they decide to close a store that has a long history in a town, it isn’t just a business that’s lost? It is more than a building that they leave empty.

I thought about that when I read that JC Penney is closing its Andalusia store. Executives in some office far from South Alabama sat around a conference table and put a checkmark beside the stores they were closing. With one swipe, they choose to end something that is part of not only the history of a town, but also part of a lot of people’s personal history.

A couple of paragraphs on a company blog let a community know that something that’s been with them for years is going away.

“Following a comprehensive review of our retail footprint, JC Penney made the difficult decision to close 154 stores… Please see below for a list of closing locations.”

And there it is at the top of the list under the heading “Alabama,” Covington Mall Andalusia, 922 River Falls Street. A checkmark beside an address, a post on a blog and a place that is part of a town is gone.

Now I know there are historical society folks who know the story of when this store opened in Covington County, all its different locations over the years. Heck, they probably know the name of the first manager.

All I know is my personal history with this business and it starts when I was a kid growing up about 15 miles away in Opp. Back in those “old” days, a trip to Andalusia was a big thing. People mostly shopped in their hometowns or maybe ordered a thing or two from the Sears Catalog.

When Mother announced a trip to the county seat, it was an adventure. There was one time —  I think it was near Easter — when an out-of-town shopping trip was necessary. Mother exhausted all the options in Opp for an Easter dress, or it maybe it was shoes. Anyway, something in my size didn’t exist close to home.

So, we made a trip to the JC Penney store. It was located in downtown Andalusia back then and my oh my I thought it was the biggest store ever. Things look much bigger when you are a really small person.

Over the years, “Penneys” became Mother’s go-to shopping place. When it moved into the mall location it felt like something special, so much bigger, so many more shoes for Mother to try on, so many more purses to check out.

I can still hear her when some special event was coming up. It might be a wedding, a graduation and on occasion even a funeral.

“I don’t have a thing to wear,” she’d say. “I need to get over to Penney’s and see if I can find something.”

I smile when I think about my trips with her to that store. Even though she is gone, there are still some of those “something-to-wear” she purchased hanging in her closet

I can’t remember a Christmas since I moved to Andalusia that hasn’t included shopping at that store. It was my go-to place for a nice shirt for my husband and comfortable slippers to go with the pajamas I always buy for him.

When I married my husband 33 years ago, the dress I wore taking my vows in front of his parents’ fireplace came from JC Penney. It was pink and lacey and I found it on sale, something that was really helpful to a single mother on a tight budget.

I know a lot of people even outside this county have memories of shopping trips to this store. It’s been part of the fabric of many lives.

And now, it’s going away like other businesses that had a checkmark put beside their addresses in some corporate meeting. I wish they understood what they take away — that it is truly is more than a building they are leaving empty.