By: Anne Geggis
Monday’s opening of the Coral Square Mall after its two-month closure provided no reassurance about the fate of one of the retail center’s anchors, JCPenney.
The national retailer on Friday announced plans to file for bankruptcy protection that will involve closing some of its 1,100 U.S. stores. And, unlike some of the other still-closed stores at Coral Square mall, there were no signs of employee activity behind JCPenney’s locked doors Monday afternoon.
A company spokeswoman said which stores will be closed and which will survive the reorganization has not been decided as “it is still early in the process.” Store closures will be announced in the next few weeks, she said.
On Wednesday, however, 12 Florida stores operating under the 118-year-old brand’s name will be open for the first time since stay-at-home orders prompted by the outbreak of COVID-19 shut them, the spokeswoman said. A company email shows that none of the stores set to open are further south than Fort Myers, however.
“I want to assure you: JCPenney is not going out of business,” CEO Jill Soltau wrote in a statement posted on the company website. “JCPenney will continue to be one of the nation’s largest apparel and home retailers. Our expansive footprint will still include hundreds of stores …”
Darrell Tennyson, 18, of Fort Lauderdale and a recent Cardinal Gibbons High School graduate, was surprised to find only a sheet of paper taped to the front of the Coral Square JCPenney promising that it would reopen April 2. He was there to collect his prescription glasses.
“I really need my glasses, he said. “I wish they could have mailed them to me.”
Tennyson and his friend were among about two dozen shoppers who roamed the Coral Square Mall Monday afternoon, now with arrows on the concrete floor, directing people to walk one way on one side, the other way on another.
The child’s play area was closed, as were the restrooms and the soda vending machines in the middle of the hallway. The only atmosphere music came from a handful of open stores.
Luke Paulos, 20, of Davie, came with his girlfriend Andrea Kirby, 21, of Fort Lauderdale. She bought a few tops and bottoms from an apparel store.
“I thought there was going to be more open,” he said, looking around at the minimally illuminated or totally dark store interiors.
Retail sales have been hard hit in the coronavirus crisis, already reeling from the effects of shoppers migrating to online sales. Sears in February announced plans to close its store in Coral Square Mall on April 12, which fell during the shutdown.
Still, Coral Springs has a retail vacancy rate of 4.1 percent, unchanged from last year, according to Lynne Martzall, the city’s director of communications and marketing. That’s below the national average vacancy rate of 4.7 percent that industry publication Commercial Property Executive found earlier this year.
The city is aware that challenges lie ahead for the city’s businesses. Days before the county shutdown order went into effect, it established the business assistance hotline. An economic recovery task force has also been formed, according to a city press release.
Vice Mayor Joy Carter said she would be sad if the city’s JCPenney is among COVID-19’s casualties.
“I always enjoyed shopping at JCPenney — great professional dresses and homewares,” she said.
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- Anne Geggis has been a newspaper reporter for 30 years, most recently at the Sun Sentinel. She graduated from St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vt., with a double major in journalism and sociology.
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