Remembering the Downtown J.C. Penney's

Friday, March 7, 2014 - by Harmon Jolley
Market Street view from 1955 showing J.C. Penney's in the foreground
Market Street view from 1955 showing J.C. Penney's in the foreground

Earlier this year, The Chattanoogan.com reported the imminent closing of one of the few remaining original stores at Northgate Mall.   J.C. Penney of Northgate is expected to close during the second quarter of 2014.  Here are links to previous articles about the history of the Hixson store, and the shuttering news:

http://www.chattanoogan.com/2014/1/18/267700/The-History-Of-The-Northgate-JCPenney.aspx

http://www.chattanoogan.com/2014/1/15/267484/JCPenney-At-Northgate-Mall-Is-Closing.aspx

Things which have an ending also have a beginning.  In this article, we take a look back at the first J.C. Penney’s in downtown Chattanooga .

The April 13, 1937 Chattanooga News-Free Press reported that the J.C. Penney Company of New York would open a store in Chattanooga around September 1.  An existing multi-level building on the southeast corner of Sixth and Market streets was being remodeled.  The building’s previous occupant was the locally-based Effron’s Department Store, which was moving to a remodeled building diagonally across from its old location. 

Insurance companies often invest in real estate, and that was the case with the new Penney’s property.  The J.C. Penney Company signed a long-term lease with the building’s owner, Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company.  Penney’s announced that the remodeled store would be the finest in the south. 

By 1937, the economy of the United States had mostly recovered from the Great Depression.   Expansion by a major retailer was a positive sign for the local economy.  Seventy-five employees, most local residents, were hired for the new store.

J.C. Penney’s carried a variety of clothing and household items.  The store’s management, led by C.L. Buchanan, emphasized the local adherence to the Golden Rule of founder James Cash Penney.  Customer satisfaction was a key to the company’s success.  Store overhead was kept to a minimum in order to pass savings to the customer.

Chattanooga’s downtown retail district stretched from Fourth Street south.  Penney’s was one of several large department stores; others included Loveman’s, Miller Brothers, and Sears.  Across Sixth Street from Penney’s were the headquarters of the privately-owned Tennessee Electric Power Company.  By 1939, TEPCO would be bought by the Tennessee Valley Authority. 

The Electric Power Board then moved into the former TEPCO building, and became a neighbor to J.C. Penney.  Both companies displayed Christmas scenes in their first-floor storefront windows.  Penney’s converted a third floor stock room to a toy department during the Christmas shopping season.  Shoppers might precede or cap off their trip to Penney’s with a Christmas movie at the nearby State Theater (later called the Martin).  Maybe they saw “The Bishop’s Wife” or “Lemon Drop Kid,” two of my favorite Christmas movies.

The downtown Penney’s was expanded and remodeled twice by the 1950’s.  However, my memory of Penney’s is that, compared to the other large downtown stores, its decor was very conservative. 

The beginning of the end of the downtown J.C. Penney came in the late 1950’s with the construction of the suburban Brainerd Village.  Penney’s opened a store there, and then moved to Eastgate Mall in 1964.  Northgate Mall included a Penney’s in its line-up when the shopping center opened in 1972.  Despite increased parking and remodeled storefronts, downtown continued to lose retail business.

On May 12, 1982 the Chattanooga Times announced that the downtown J.C. Penney’s would close in August.  Herb and Ival Goldstein, owners of The Leader retail stores and Goldstein Brothers Investment Corporation, purchased the Market Street building.  Plans were to convert the four-story edifice into offices. 

The Penney’s building and The Martin were later demolished to make way for a city/county courts building.

If you have memories of the downtown J.C. Penney’s, please send me an e-mail at jolleyh@bellsouth.net.  I’ll update this article with some of your memories.

Memories from Readers

I remember the downtown store from going there with my mother in the early 50's. What I remember the most is that they didn't have cash registers where you paid for your purchase. The salesperson made out a slip and put it in a cylinder with your money and the cylinder was hooked on a cord and pulley system, went off somewhere upstairs and in a few minutes it came back with your change. This always fascinated me as a kid watching those cords and pulleys running around.


 

 

 

 

Grand opening advertisement from 1937
Grand opening advertisement from 1937

Civil War Historical Marker Ceremony To Be Held In June In Cleveland

The latest Civil War-related historical roadside marker will be dedicated during a special ceremony next month in Cleveland. The marker commemorates the difficult time during the Civil War when much of Bradley County lay between Union and Confederate lines. During this period, homes and businesses were vandalized and robbed by both pro-Union and pro-Confederate forces who took advantage ... (click for more)

Catoosa County Historical Society Meeting May 11

The Catoosa County Historical Society's May meeting will be this coming Monday May 11. 2015 at 07:00 PM at the Old Stone Church Museum. Our speaker will be Mr. Charles (Charlie) Harris,one of our members.He is also a member of the Dixie Relics Recovery Club. His topic will be "Confederated Coinage" during the Civil War. All are welcome to come and enjoy our fellowship and learn ... (click for more)

Unexpected Amount East Ridge Owes On Fire Hall Property Rises To $603,000; City To Apply For Reimbursement

The unexpected amount the city of East Ridge will owe the state on the fire hall property in connection with the Bass Pro development has risen to $603,000. Earlier, East Ridge officials said the payment would be $428,000. City Manager Andrew Hyatt said Monday, "The Tennessee Department of Transportation notified the city of East Ridge that an appraisal of the city’s former ... (click for more)

Fire Breaks Out At House Off Highway 58

A fire broke out on Memorial Day afternoon at a house off Highway 58. A 911 call was made at 12:10 p.m. reporting a house fire at 6019 Hillcrest Dr. The Highway 58 Volunteer Fire Department responded and found fire showing on an addition to the house. Firefighters worked quickly entering the addition to extinguish the fire from spreading to the main level of the house. ... (click for more)

A Memorial Day Reflection

I wish I could find that combination of words that would capture an inclusive meaning of Memorial Day.  I have attended many Memorial Day programs at the Chattanooga National Cemetery, so many that now they have merged into one memory.  But what stands out is that each year there are more friends and veterans to visit.  Some gave their all many years ago.  And ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Keep Your ‘Dirty’ Feed

Mark Twain once observed the difference in a cat and a lie is that a cat only has nine lives. You might remember that when you hear that a group of Tennessee Walking Horse trainers just donated two tons of horse feed “to aid and assist in the rehabilitation” of 55 horses that were rescued from deplorable conditions at a West Tennessee farm. The truth is that the horses were taken ... (click for more)