J.C. Penney got its start more than a century ago by opening stores in small towns across the United States.
But now, as online shopping continues to disrupt the retail landscape, the company is closing many of those stores as it focuses on its more profitable suburban locations and strengthening its online shopping capabilities.
The retailer announced Friday it is closing eight, or roughly a third, of its 25 stores in Minnesota. They are among the 138 stores J.C. Penney is closing nationwide as the company looks to focus on stores with greater sales potential.
Minnesota is bearing a heavier brunt of the store closings than most other states, surpassed only by Texas where nine stores are closing.
Many of the Minnesota stores set to be shuttered have been around for decades — long before the retailer built much larger multilevel stores attached to suburban shopping malls, said Dave Brennan, a retailing professor at the University of St. Thomas.
"These smaller communities were underserved," Brennan said. "That's their legacy — that's where (J.C. Penney) got started."
The stores slated for closure are in Baxter, Fairmont, Faribault, Hibbing, Hutchinson, Red Wing, Thief River Falls and Winona.
The chain's stores in St. Cloud, Willmar, Mankato, Rochester and Alexandria will remain open. So will the nine stores in the Twin Cities metro area.
Most of these Minnesota towns that are losing their J.C. Penney won't be left totally high and dry and will still have some big-box options.
"In some cases, there's a Target," Brennan said. "But in almost all cases, there's a Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart will be the primary gainer."
The liquidation sales will begin April 17, and most of the stores will wind down by mid-June. About 5,000 positions will be eliminated nationwide.
The store closures represent about 14 percent of J.C. Penney's total store portfolio.
J.C. Penney first disclosed last month that it would shutter about 130 to 140 stores, but it didn't identify which stores until Friday morning. The retailer said the stores slated for closure either require a lot of investment to reach the company's new standards or are barely making money.
"Our decision to close these locations was made after careful analysis of store performance, local demographics, ability to deliver on the company's growth strategies and proficiency to execute a seamless omnichannel experience through online order fulfillment, same-day pickup, exchanges and returns," Joey Thomas, a company spokesman, wrote in an e-mail.
He added that the company will be investing in stores that offer the "best expression of the J.C. Penney brand" and can serve an extension of online shopping.
Executives said last month that the retailer will continue to focus on adding appliance showrooms to its stores, expanding its Sephora mini-shops and growing its plus-size business.
J.C. Penney is one of a number of major retailers trying to adapt to the shift to online shopping by paring its brick-and-mortar footprint while strengthening its e-commerce capabilities and focusing on higher-performing stores. Macy's is also shuttering about 68 stores nationwide, including a flagship location on Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis set to go dark on Sunday. Macy's is also closing its stores in Grand Forks, N.D., and La Crosse, Wis.
After reporting bad holiday sales, Sears Holdings announced 150 store closings earlier this year, including its stores in Coon Rapids and Mankato. The company is also closing its Kmart store in Detroit Lakes.
Thief River Falls, a town of about 8,700 people in northwestern Minnesota, will acutely feel the upcoming loss of its J.C. Penney store, said Brian Holmer, the town's mayor.
"The community really wanted to keep it, but the corporate office said 'Sorry,' " he said.
The store sits at a main crossroads in town near a Sears appliance store and an office supply business, he said. It's the only place in the center of town that sells clothing. Once it closes, the main shopping options will be a Wal-Mart and Kmart on the edge of town.
Like people everywhere else, Holmer said more people in town seem to be warming up to online shopping, especially with free shipping easier to come by.
"People would rather sit behind their computer and have it shipped to their doorstep for free," he said. "I constantly see the FedExes and UPSes coming up the street."