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Hitting the century mark: J.C. Penney celebrates 100 years of business in Bemidji Friday

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J.C. Penney was located in downtown Bemidji for 61 years before moving to the Paul Bunyan Mall in 1978. The retailer was located at 413 Beltrami Ave. NW, which is now the Headwaters Science Center. (Submitted photo)2 / 3
Shoppers come and go from J.C. Penney on Thursday morning at the Paul Bunyan Mall. The department store will celebrate 100 years in Bemidji today and has been at its location in the mall since 1978 after moving from downtown Bemidji. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)3 / 3

BEMIDJI—The physical location of the J.C. Penney in Bemidji has changed, but for 100 years its presence in the First City on the Mississippi has remained a constant.

"For a company to survive 100 years it has to change, especially in retail. I've been with J.C. Penney for 39 years and I've seen them change and I think we're seeing a lot of change with them right now," said Michael Beard, manager of the Bemidji location in the Paul Bunyan Mall. "It's a real compliment to a company to say that it can survive 100 years in a community."

In Bemidji, J.C. Penney started in the city's downtown sector as one of 50 new stores opening in 1917. The company's expansion came about 15 years after its launch in 1902 when the first store opened under the name The Golden Rule in Kemmerer, Wyo. In 1913, the business was incorporated and the name changed to J.C. Penney.

The Bemidji store was remodeled in 1939 and spent a total of 61 years in the downtown area, including in what is now the Headwaters Science Center, before relocating to its current location at the Paul Bunyan Mall in July 1978.

Recently, the mall location had its own remodel when it added some new features last year. In 2016 a 2,200 square-foot Sephora section was added into the 48,364 square-foot store. Described as a 'store within a store,' Sephora is a cosmetic line starting in 2006 that's featured in 500 J.C. Penney locations.

Along with the Sephora addition, the Bemidji J.C. Penney added a Disney themed area, becoming one of 700 stores in the company to do so. In total, there are now 875 stores across the United States and Puerto Rico. In Minnesota, there are 15 J.C. Penney stores. The Bemidji location's celebration comes amid a challenging time in the retail industry, as a host of chain retailers have announced scaled-back operations and store closings as the competition of online shopping continues to grow. Even J.C. Penney announced last month that it was closing 138 of its stores nationwide, including Minnesota locations in Baxter, Fairmont, Faribault, Hibbing, Hutchinson, Red Wing, Thief River Falls and Winona.

To celebrate all of its history, Beard said the local J.C. Penney is holding a ceremony at the mall at 9:30 a.m. Friday with special giveaways to the first 100 people at the store. Along with the customer offers and displays of history, Beard also said the local J.C. Penney will present the Bemidji Boys and Girls Club with $250 in gift cards.

"The community has supported the store for 100 years, and I think there's a partnership because the company has been actively involved in a lot of things in Bemidji, with the Boys and Girls Club being one of the nonprofits we support," Beard said.


What: J.C. Penney celebrating its 100 year anniversary of business in Bemidji.

Where: The Paul Bunyan Mall, located at 1401 Paul Bunyan Dr. NW.

When: Friday, with a ceremony at 9:30 a.m. and the store opening to shoppers at 10 a.m.

Matthew Liedke

Matthew Liedke is the city, county and state government reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. He also covers business, politics and financial news.

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