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J.C. Penney at Lakeshore Mall is closing permanently
J.C. Penney at Lakeshore Mall in Gainesville had been closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, but now is permanently closing as part of the retail chain's bankruptcy proceedings.

A department store that traces its history to the downtown square, J.C. Penney is now leaving Gainesville for good.

The Texas-based chain announced Thursday, June 4, that its store at Lakeshore Mall is one of the retailer's 154 stores nationwide that’s closing as part of bankruptcy proceedings.

“Following a comprehensive review of our retail footprint, J.C. Penney made the difficult decision to close 154 stores,” the company said on its website Thursday, June 4.

“We will continue to operate the majority of our stores and our flagship store,, to ensure our valued customers continue to have access to the products and brands they need and want.”

The store closings were made “following a comprehensive evaluation of its retail footprint and a careful analysis of store performance and future strategic fit for the company,” a press release states.

The closings will begin following the entry of an order at a hearing set for next Thursday, June 11, at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Corpus Christi, Tex., the company said.

Mahmoud Al-Hadidi of True Buyer Stockbridge Enterprises of Orchard Lake, Mich., near Detroit, which owns Lakeshore Mall, said J.C. Penney’s closing “is not good news for us, but it is not horrible news. J.C. Penney has been struggling for a while now.

“It is a temporary setback for us, but the outlook is hopefully good for the next few years.”

Al-Hadidi said he hasn’t heard from J.C. Penney about the bankruptcy proceedings or what lies ahead.

He expects “they will open, they will liquidate, then they will close (the store) permanently. (The company has) not been honest or transparent. We have heard about (company developments) through the news.”

J.C. Penney says on its website that “store closing sales for the first round of store closures are expected to take 10-16 weeks to complete.”

Specific details about the Lakeshore location were not available.

Gainesville's J.C. Penney closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it remained closed even as other J.C. Penney stores, including the one at the Mall of Georgia in Buford, reopened.

The store's demise is the latest blow to the already struggling 50-year-old, 500,000-square-foot Lakeshore Mall. In 2019, longtime anchor Sears closed.

J.C. Penney, which once stood at Spring and Main streets, where Sweet Magnolia’s restaurant is now located, has been a Lakeshore stalwart.

“It’s been there since the beginning (in the late 1960s),” said Tim Evans, vice president of economic development at the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce.

Several years ago, the retailer debated whether to tear down its Lakeshore store and rebuild, but it ended up making extensive renovations, including new flooring.

But J.C. Penney, along with other traditional department stores, including Sears, have struggled through the years fending off the likes of Walmart and other discount retailers.

And then there’s e-commerce, led by internet giant Amazon.

J.C. Penney’s Lakeshore store had dodged waves of nationwide closings, including one in 2019.

“The end of Penney’s is not necessarily the end of Lakeshore Mall, but certainly not the end of the usefulness of that location,” Evans said. “It gives the opportunity for new life for something else. That’s a fantastic location … and I don’t have any doubt that there’ll be some new opportunity down the road.”