City Council talks about saving J.C. Penney mother store

The sign on top of the J.C. Penney store in Kemmerer. // By Mysti Willmon

By now, everyone knows the J.C. Penney mother store is up for sale in order to comply with the company’s chapter 11 bankruptcy filing. This store has been a staple visit for many tourists in the area. It is even listed as the No. 4 top attraction for Kemmerer on the Tripadvisor website.

During the latest Kemmerer City Council meeting on Monday, Aug. 10, the council looked at many different ways to keep the store alive. City Administrator Brian Muir has been trying to contact J.C. Penney corporate as well as others in the company with no response.

Many reports have said the store will be auctioned off, but that is not true, according to Muir. Muir has talked with the broker in charge of the property and found that the property will be sold, not auctioned. Properties that are leased by J.C. Penney are being auctioned off in September. However, properties that are owned by the J.C. Penney company are being sold separately, according to Muir. Muir also found out from the broker that whoever buys the store will get the J.C. Penney Homestead as well. The Homestead was originally the home of J.C. Penney and currently stands as a museum, even if it is closed because of COVID-19.

The council talked about buying the store but came to the conclusion that it is not feasible.

“It breaks my heart to lose that store, but it’s a reality,” Councilperson William Thek said. “We can’t afford it.”

The entire council agreed that while the city can’t afford to buy and maintain the store, the sign that hangs above it is what matters to many tourists.

“The name is the important part of the whole thing,” Mayor Anthony Tomassi said.

After much discussion, Muir said he would look into how much it would cost to license the name “J.C. Penney Mother Store.”

One idea brought up by a member of the public was to see if a kind of tax break or the city paying their property taxes would give the company more incentive to keep the Kemmerer store running. Muir said he would look into the property taxes the store pays yearly.

Another option brought up by a couple of councilmembers was to look into grants for historical preservation.

The Kemmerer City Council will continue brainstorming ideas to keep the store open. Public comments with ideas are welcome during the next council meeting on Aug. 24.

The Gazette contacted the J.C. Penney mother store for a comment and was told to contact corporate for more information.

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