THE LONGTIME OWOSSO JCPENNEY department store will be closing. An old newspaper clipping reads, “On March 30, 1918, the J.C. Penney Company Store opened its doors in Owosso and invited you to enjoy the Golden Rule Service of the J.C. Penney business policy.” The Golden Rule of Service was a concept developed by founder, James Cash Penney, Jr., who started the company in 1902 in Wyoming. Prior, Penney had been involved with a dry goods and clothing store called The Golden Rule. Why? History has it that Penney was driven to develop the Golden Rule Service – to always treat others as you would want to be treated.
Penney is famous for stating, “Courteous treatment will make a customer a walking advertisement.”
Shown is the Owosso JCPenney site (originally J.C. Penney) when it was located at 115-117 S. Washington St., where Lily Pearls and Foster Coffee Co. are today. Though it might be difficult to view, the window displays include ladies hats and shoes on the left with men’s shoes and accessories on the right.
With the announcement of seven store closings in Michigan, including Owosso, earlier in the week, the Owosso JCPenney store has serviced generations of Shiawassee County shoppers for 102 years – and employed generations of residents, too – proving itself as a cornerstone company for the region.
The Owosso JCPenney store is to close, along with six other store locations in Michigan. The JCPenney department store chain filed for bankruptcy in May and made the most recent closing announcement on Tuesday, June 23. Included in the Michigan stores to close are: Owosso, Alma (Northtown Village), Bay City (Bay City Town Center), Big Rapids, Greenville (Greenville West Mall), Mount Pleasant (Mount Pleasant Shopping Center and Okemos (Meridian Mall).
Liquidation sales at some of these locations are set to begin in early July. Nationally, other JCPenney locations have already been offering going-out-of-business sales at stores slated to closes. For decades, the company has been one of the nation’s largest apparel retailers with an enormous economic footprint across the country. The Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection filing in May was initiated after several years of declining sales combined with pandemic factors. The company has until mid-July to offer a plan going forward, but in the reorganizational effort to become solvent, over 240 stores will permanently close.
The Owosso JCPenney store opened in 1918 with that location offering shopping opportunities in the basement, first floor and balcony area. The “new” building at 201 S. Washington St. was built in 1985 by former Indian Trails Inc., CEO Bill Himburg and Owosso businessman Bill Howe. The two men, now deceased, formed the W.H. Partnership to finance the building. However, in October 2017, Brent Mowinski, the owner of Mowinski Financial, and a local developer/investor, purchased the JCPenney building. Mowinski was born and raised in the Owosso/Corunna area, entered the financial services industry in 2008, and most recently moved his offices to Westown in February.
Though the building is locally owned by Mowinski and partner(s), JCPenney has been a long-term lessee of the retail space on the corner of S. Washington and E. Comstock Streets. When the store opened in the mid-1980s, it featured a large catalog department, salon, centralized jewelry department and even offered gift-wrapping.
Owosso Main Street/DDA Director Josh Adams has already expressed that the DDA will be meeting with the building owner in upcoming weeks “to aid them in potential new tenants of that building.”
Via a phone call Wednesday afternoon, Brent Mowinski shared that the JCPenney lease is “basically good for the rest of the year.” When asked what his thoughts on future tenants were, Mowinski stated to “stay tuned.” He added, “Hopefully whatever happens it will be great for Owosso.”
Owosso resident, Sue Mead, who was raised on a farm in the Elsie area, commented, “I shopped at the old store my whole life. I was always fascinated with the upstairs. I loved to stand there and look down at what seemed like an enormous store down below. I went there with my mother and we went there for everything. It was almost the only place my mom bought our clothes at. Owosso was the big city then. We used to even be able to buy fabric and my mom would make dresses for me.”
Mead eventually joined the JCPenney team, working for the company from 1980 to 1994. “I loved working at the store. It had always been such a friendly place where I’d shop, so I just loved working there.”
Robin Wackerly, Owosso store manager, was unavailable for comment and the corporate office will continue to offer updates.
A complete list of store closures is available at companyblog.jcpnewsroom.com/storeclosings.