The News & Observer is reporting this morning that the J.C. Penney store in Wilson is closing. Is anyone surprised?
The demise of the Penney's store, the last of the original anchor stores in Parkwood Mall, was inevitable when the mall owners made a series of blunders in managing the retail space that once dominated Wilson sales. The mall allowed Belk to jump ship and move to the new Heritage Crossing. That was a disabling blow to the mall because Belk generated traffic that other tenants could use. Belk moved for a new location but no more space. The mall would have been wise to give Belk free rent, if necessary, to keep the department store in the mall.
It was all downhill after that. Sears closed. Empty storefronts outnumbered open stores. Mall owners built a big new cinema complex, which drew viewers but not shoppers and hid the mall stores. A huge monstrosity of a sign went up in two locations by the mall, with Wilson City Council revising sign laws to appease the mall owners. Then the mall owners, in their infinite wisdom, closed the interior common areas of the mall. Not only was there no incentive to go to the mall; you were barred from entering the mall.
If there has been a greater series of blunders in commercial management, I can't think of it.
With Penney's closing, the bulk of the former mall's retail revenue is going away. Mall owners have talked of bulldozing the remaining vacant portions of the mall. Demolition will be expensive, and the owners don't seem to be in any hurry. The once vibrant expanse of acreage will soon be an eyesore, an open wound in Wilson's commercial landscape.
It didn't have to happen.