Editorial: Penney’s part of city’s history

  • Posted: Thursday, March 21, 2013 9:49 a.m.

“Rumors that JCPenney and Belk Harry are considering leaving Salisbury Mall are ‘absolutely’ untrue, according to officials at both stores.”

Sometimes, rumors aren’t untrue. It just takes a while for reality to overtake them — a couple of decades in this case. The quote above is from a Nov. 15, 1993, article in the Salisbury Post, a story the Post was compelled to publish to address fears that the mall was about to lose two major tenants.

Fast-forward to March 2013: After months of speculation, JCPenney announced it is leaving the mall and Salisbury, where it has operated for more than 70 years. As previously announced, Belk will move to the new Wallace Commons shopping center on Klumac Road.

Seven decades is a good run in retail by anyone’s standards. When Penney’s opened on South Main on Sept. 4, 1941, Pearl Harbor was a few months in the future, and Salisbury’s downtown was the place to shop — as was the case for the downtowns of towns and cities across America. Penney’s thrived, going through two expansions and renovations at its site in the 300 block of South Main. So did Woolworth’s, Belk Harry and Zimmerman’s.

Then, in 1986, came a merchandising bombshell: Salisbury was finally getting a mall, and Penney’s would be an anchor store (along with Roses and Belk Harry). That announcement, by the way, also followed years of rumors and speculation about the possibility of a major mall coming to Rowan.

Now, JCPenney is shutting stores around the country, including its Wilkesboro location, as it tries to redefine its brand amid declining revenues and changing shopping trends. The Salisbury Mall is going through a major transition as well. After going through bankruptcy, the new owner is struggling to keep remaining shops and attract others, as are scores of other older suburban malls across the nation.

Like Penney’s, the mall has seen boom days and bad ones, been a part of a great shift toward the suburbs — and is now contending with yet another shift, as Wallace Commons blossoms on Klumac Road and another development is contemplated for Summit Corporate Center. Just as downtown Salisbury has had to repurpose itself in the wake of big-box migration, the Salisbury Mall will have to reinvent itself, develop a new identity and find new ways to survive.

What’s next for the mall? Badcock Furniture is moving in, a positive sign. The sprawling parking lot is also being considered as a temporary site for the farmer’s market. Other ideas tossed out: An office complex? A call center? Government office annex? Mixed-use development?

Somewhere out there, the rumors are already swirling.

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