Photo by Jim Massara
Outlet associates with more than 30 years on the job, with manager Mike Self (rear): Julie Mays (left), MaryAnn Sheppard and Florine Wright (right).
By Jim Massara, firstname.lastname@example.org
To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the death of the J.C. Penney Outlet store in Forest Park are greatly exaggerated.
Open since 1969 and easily visible from I-75, the store was reportedly in danger of closing when J.C. Penney announced early last year that it was leaving the catalog and outlet-store business.
In October, though, SB Capital Group bought the 15 remaining J.C. Penney Outlet stores, keeping their management and staff and renaming them JC’s 5 Star Outlets.
In other words, almost nothing but the name has changed. Even the signs still say J.C. Penney, although they will be replaced within the next 12 months.
“SB bought us because they loved the model, they loved the way we operated, and obviously we’re profitable,” said Mike Self, store manager.
The store will continue to stock predominantly J.C. Penney clearance items but will add other lines previously unavailable to the outlet.
The Forest Park outlet — as well as the entire chain — has also kept its management and work force in place. The store employs 145, all from the area and some with more than 30 years experience there.
“Their (SB’s) vision was to not come in and make a lot of changes to something that’s already working very well,” Self said.
The store, with 80,000 feet of sales floor, remains neat and clean, with a well-lit, safe parking lot. And the merchandise — mostly apparel and home goods — is plentiful, conveniently arranged, attractive, and priced competitively with big-box stores like Walmart, Kmart and Target.
In fact, the store looks very much like the J.C. Penney stores that occupied non-mall shopping centers for decades.
The difference is that it’s the only store of its type remaining to serve Forest Park. JC 5 Star’s nearest big-box competitors are in Morrow.
“There’s not a tremendous amount of retail places in this area,” Self said. “So you can see for folks in this area, it’s very important.”
Self said the store, which caters mostly to locals but also serves visiting shoppers who pass by on I-75, encourages two types of shopping: quick in-and-out, and bargain hunting.
“For example, we get a lot of people who might stop in on their lunch hour or their way home,” Self said as he gestured to long racks of neatly arranged women’s wear, sorted according to size and style. “Maybe they have to get home to make dinner, but they want to stop by and get a pair of jeans. We just want to make sure we don’t make the trip difficult for them.
“Then there are some folks that will make it like a treasure hunt. They come in here regularly, they know what’s new and what’s been around awhile. They know we might clearance it, move it out, so they keep an eye on it.”
Store hours remain the same: 10 a.m., to 9 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and noon to 6 p.m., on Sunday.