With the impending closing of JCPenney at Lakeshore Mall in September, it will be the end of a 92-year presence for the store in Gainesville.
Penney’s, as many people refer to the department store, opened in downtown Gainesville in March 1928. It moved to Lakeshore Mall in 1969, a half-century ago this month. While many remember the downtown location at the corner of Spring and Main streets, its first store was just up the block in the building where Millner’s and later Frames You-nique picture frame shop and book store resided.
For many years, Penney’s and Julian Bloodworth were joined at the hip. Bloodworth, the colorful manager and native of Milledgeville, began with the store in 1929. He served as manager until his retirement in 1961.
Bloodworth was fondly nicknamed “Mr. Penney” or “Major,” according to his daughter, Gloria Colter. His focus was on fair pricing and friendly customer service, she said.
He trained many employees who became store managers themselves and encouraged others to get a college education. Older employees would stay for years. JCPenney corporate leaders constantly praised him for his success in advertising and handling merchandise and employees. In 1940, the Gainesville store had an annual volume of $140,000 with 10% profit. In 1960, Bloodworth had increased this to more than a million dollars and 13% net.
In Penney’s early years farmers’overalls and house dresses for women were the most common purchases, along with cloth and sewing materials for women who made many of their clothes. Later, the trend was for more stylish clothing for men and women.
Bloodworth often would provide free clothing for loved ones to dress their dead for burial.
He found safety under his desk in his second floor office during the 1936 tornado. That floor and the one at McLellan’s were the only upper floors on that block that survived.
In the late 1940s or early ’50s, the store moved to the corner of Spring and Main where Sweet Magnolias and other businesses are today.
All the while Penney’s was downtown, it was a cash operation, no credit.
Bloodworth’s daughter, Gloria, felt as close to Penney employees as aunts or uncles.
Her father was somewhat of a character around Hall County, full of fun and wit while playing a serious part in the community. He was restless, though, and couldn’t quit work. After retiring from JCPenney, he joined The Times advertising department. He retired again, but helped organize Dixie City, a discount retailer on what is now Jesse Jewell Parkway where J&J Foods is today. He also was its first general manager and is credited with naming the store.
After that calling was fulfilled, Bloodworth retired again and joined WGGA radio station. During his busy business career, he found time for community service, presiding over the Chamber of Commerce, working with the Gainesville High School Band Boosters, Gainesville Rotary and First Baptist Church on Green Street. Gov. Herman Talmadge also had named him to his unofficial staff.
Bloodworth died Sept. 14, 1979.
The late Cecil Jones was the long-time ice cream maker for the annual McKibbon BLT luncheon. The luncheon, which celebrates home-grown tomatoes, is now held at Peach State Bank in Gainesville, but was canceled in its 25th year because of the pandemic.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; phone, 770-532-2326; email, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. His column publishes weekly.