JCPenney Makes a Comeback

As far as most people are concerned, JCPenney, over 100 years old and once the largest retailer in America, has been gone for years. Like Sears and Kmart, it was buried by Walmart and Amazon. But the retailer’s CEO is speaking on CNN about how tough the environment is for retailers. (Customers are abandoning these 25 brands.)

JCPenney is in a bad enough state that a tough retail environment could cripple the tiny company again. “In 2022, Two of its landlords, Simon Property Group and Brookfield, bought it out of bankruptcy for a cash payment of less than $700 million plus new term debt,” according to industry news outlet Retail Dive. Although the company does not release data about financials or store counts, JCPenney has over 600 stores. That is many fewer than the 5,000 or so that Walmart has.

JCPenney CEO Marc Rosen says his company serves working-class families. Despite a recovering economy, those working-class families are in trouble—inflation, he says, is the enemy of its customers. “That’s tough for a family like that because it means they’re making tradeoffs in everything that they can do,” he told CNN.

JCPenney is in the middle of making $1 billion in improvements to its stores. However, it may be too late for that to matter. If Rosen is right, people who shop at JCPenney are already stretched economically to a breaking point.

Since inflation is receding, there is something about Rosen’s analysis that does not make sense unless the working class is affected more by inflation than others are. JCPenney may be the weather vane that shows this is true.

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