J.C. Penney plans return to downtown Westminster

Catalog-merchant store is part of corporate strategy, company says

July 23, 2000|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

J.C. Penney will return next month to downtown Westminster, 10 years after closing its doors on Main Street.

A catalog-merchant store is scheduled to open Aug. 23 inside the Golf Etc. store in the Old Firehouse building at 66 E. Main St., according to the store owner and a spokesman for J.C. Penney Co. Inc. from its headquarters in Plano, Texas.

"Our merchant program is where we go into an existing business and they manage the catalog desk," said Tim Lyons, a public relations coordinator who handles store openings and closings. "Customers will be able to place orders, buy catalogs and pick up their merchandise, saving shipping and handling."

It benefits the merchants as well, because they see increased traffic in their store, he said.

If even conservative estimates of the number of Penney customers are true, the store would boost business significantly, said Thomas Meads, who opened Golf Etc. in March 1999 and will soon change its name to Westminster Golf and Gifts.

Nationally, he was told by the company, the catalog merchants average 800 Penney customers a month, plus about 100 people who get catalogs and another 100 who pay their bills. And Westminster is a little above the average, said a regional manager of J.C. Penney.

"But if I get 500 a month, I'd be tickled," Meads said.

Meads said one merchant who ran a video store and ice cream parlor in Pennsylvania told him he did so well under the arrangement that he went into the catalog-merchant business exclusively.

The Penney store at 56 W. Main St. closed in 1990, and the building was renovated in 1995 by David Max and Max Realty into the Winchester West office building. It was built in 1929 by automobile dealer Walter H. Davis.

"This is significant to Westminster because J.C. Penney had one of the largest retail presences here in what became known as the J.C. Penney building," said R. Douglas Mathias, executive director of the nonprofit Greater Westminster Development Corp. "We've seen the circle go from the downtowns to the shopping centers to the malls, and now returning to Main Street again.

"So we're really pleased that the business cycle and the trend has allowed a store that had such a history on West Main Street to return to the downtown central business zone on East Main Street," he said.

Meads said his store is a great location for the catalog desk.

"A lot of people thought the location of Main Street wouldn't be ideal, but I don't find that," said Meads, whose store sells golf equipment, golf apparel and related merchandise, and makes repairs. "For instance, there are plenty of parking spaces, despite the mystique of the parking problem. You can pull right in front of my door."

After closing its downtown Westminster store, J.C. Penney opened a catalog store in Cranberry Mall. That operation closed Dec. 29 as part of a corporate trend to move from malls toward merchant-catalog operations in stores, Lyons said.

A paper notice on the door of the old catalog-sales center at the mall refers Penney customers to the North Hanover, Pa., mall store with thanks and wishes for a happy holiday season.

"They did real well in the mall," said Meads, who has attended several regional presentations in preparation for his new role with J.C. Penney.

The merchant partnerships save J.C. Penney rent and staff salaries, said Meads, who will create a separate company to run the new business, the Westminster Catalog Sales Center, and will receive a percentage of his customers' orders.

Customers will save on shipping and handling fees by coming to the store, he said.

"We typically try to maintain a presence in a market where maybe we couldn't support a store, but we have a customer base there and we want to continue to serve them."

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