Photo by George Lauby
JC Penney opened in North Platte in the Brodbeck building, at right, and soon moved into the Twinem building next door.
Low prices of 100 years ago are in prominent display in this J.C. Penney advertisement in the Nov. 8, 1918 issue of the North Platte Semi-Weekly Tribune newspaper.
When the North Platte’s JC Penney store closes in the Platte River Mall this summer, it will mark the end of a company that spent 100 years in North Platte.The store opened downtown in the spring of 1917, operating in the heart of the city for 55 years before it moved to its current location in the mall.
According to city records and newspaper accounts, the J.C. Penney Co. store in North Platte opened sometime between April 27, 1917 and May 15, 1917 downtown in the "east room" of the Brodbeck building on E. Fifth, just off Jeffers St.
The Brodbeck building is still standing. It is owned by Kittle's Music, which now operates on the east side (east room) of the building.
That same summer, the J.C. Penney store moved just down the street to the Twinem building on July 31, 1917. The Twinem building adjoins the Brodbeck building and is currently occupied by the clothing store, Once More with Style.
In preparation for the opening, the April 27, 1917 North Platte Semi-Weekly Tribune reported: "The firm [J.C. Penney Co.] has had a lot of goods stored in the B. & L. building for a couple of months past."
The B. & L. building is the Building & Loan, just west of the Brodbeck building. The Mutual Building and Loan Association building still stands on the corner of Fifth and Jeffers (100 E. Fifth.)
The Twinem building was owned by John S. Twinem, MD, who had an office there, according to Hoffhine's 1917 city directory of North Platte, which says the J.C. Penney Co. store was at 108-110 E. Fifth that year and Dr. Twinem's office was at 110 1/2 E. Fifth.
The store operated there for many years. Sometime between 1942-47, it moved from the Twinem building to the corner building at 502 N. Dewey, which was formerly occupied by Higbee & Keyes Co.
(The North Platte Public Library does not have city directories for the years 1943-46, but city directories before and after those years show the locations of the store.)
JC Penney remained at the corner of Fifth and Dewey until 1972, when it moved to the new shopping mall at 1100 S. Dewey, which is currently known as the Platte River Mall.
The building at 502 N. Dewey that Penney’s once occupied downtown was demolished during the urban renewal project and a new building was built. Murphy's Modern Music was located there, followed by Browns Shoe Fit Company -- the store that remains there today.
When JCPenney moved to the mall, the company built an auto center in front of the mall in 1972-73, according to the city directories. Nebraskaland Tire Co. is now located in that building, just off Dewey St.
The Golden Rule Store
By George Lauby
J.C. Penney founder James Cash Penney opened his first retail store in 1902 in Wyoming. He was 26 and had worked his way up in the Golden Rule Mercantile Company.
Collaborating with the two principal owners of Golden Rule, Penney’s first store was a whopping success. He soon bought out his partners and rapidly expanded. By 1909, he had 34 stores. In 1913, he incorporated as J.C Penney Co. and moved the corporate headquarters to New York City.
J.C. Penney boomed in the early days of western mining towns because it offered all goods at “one fair price” and brought fashionable items from the East to remote towns, according to a history of the company by Thompson Gale published online at www.encyclopedia.com.
By 1915, the company had 83 stores. The name “Golden Rule” remained part of the company brand for many years before it eventually disappeared.
The company had a peak number of 2,053 stores by 1973.
James Cash Penney died in 1971 at age 95, after guiding his company through the Great Depression and World War II. Penney’s not only survived those years, but thrived at times.
JC Penney gradually transitioned from general merchandise to fashion and apparel during the later years of the 20th century.
Under the company’s latest reorganizational plan, 138 stores nationally will be closed, including two others in Nebraska – one in downtown McCook and another in the Fremont Mall. JCPenney currently has more than 1,000 stores nationwide.
This report was first published in the Bulletin's March 29 print edition.