Malls and department
stores have changed drastically in recent history, even
since this photo was taken outside J.C. Penney in
Brookfield Square Mall during 1996. The Brookfield
location is celebrating its 50th anniversary this month
as it plunges into a changing retail landscape.
BROOKFIELD — After decades near the top of a heap of
department stores, J.C. Penney is grasping for ways to
stay relevant in a changing retail landscape. But at
J.C. Penney in Brookfield — reaching its 50th
anniversary this month — a major milestone allows for a
celebratory reprieve from the company’s uncertain
J.C. Penney in Brookfield Square Mall first opened its
doors on Jan. 18, 1968 with a wide backdrop of
department store success, long before internet and
online shopping changed retail.
a sunny Thursday afternoon, exactly 50 years after the
Brookfield location held its grand opening, the store
was sparsely populated but brimming wall to wall with
merchandise; a sea of home décor, formal wear and
appliances studded with a portrait studio, salon and
J.C. Penney and other department store hegemons have had
to adapt to online spaces and veer toward modern
merchandise to attract a new generation of customers.
“When I first started we sold camping equipment,” said
J.C. Penney General Manager Rosalie Diaz, pointing to
where the display had been near the front of the store
in 1992. “But that’s totally gone. Now we sell
appliances. We had furniture for quite a while, but then
we got rid of that too. We adapt.”
Penney at Brookfield Square Mall recently.
Hannah Weikel/Freeman Staff
After a massive downsize last year that closed more than
130 stores nationwide, including four in Wisconsin, J.C.
Penney still operates approximately 875 stores across
the U.S. and Puerto Rico.
There’s a prevailing perception that retail outlets,
specifically department stores and malls, are having a
hard time staying afloat. But as a whole the industry is
doing better than ever before, said Mark Mathews, the
National Retail Federation’s vice president of
development and industry analysis.
“Holiday sales grew 5.5 percent this year. Retail is
growing online and in store,” he said. “Demographics
change, so malls that have been there for 30 or 40 years
may not serve the needs for that community anymore.
People change, tastes change and areas change.”
Mathews said the future isn’t strictly online or in
store, but a combination of the two. Retailers are
learning to adapt and fill both spaces by listening to
what customers want, he said.
Jo Muenkel has been coming to J.C. Penney since she
moved to Waukesha in 1983. She said she’s always liked
the quality of clothing and home wares sold there.
A photograph of JC
Penney, formerly known as Penney's, taken at Brookfield
Square Mall in 1978. The store is celebrating its 50
years in business this month.
Photo courtesy of Brookfield
Muenkel and her husband bought their curtains and some
furniture from J.C. Penney over the years, but recently
started to shop mostly online, she said.
Penney has a website that offers special deals and same
day pickup in stores to cater to customers.
the years, J.C. Penney and other department stores like
Sears and Macy’s have had to adapt to the wants and
needs of customers while competing with online retailers
that have less overhead and more flexibility.
Sears in Brookfield Square recently announced plans to
drastically downsize or even close the store completely
in the next year. The space will be redeveloped for a
movie theater and other entertainment as Brookfield
Square, too, struggles to keep people coming through its
Evolution is necessary to stay in business, Diaz said.
“We’re still here, there are still people coming in,”
she said. “It’s just how they shop is different. If the
weather is bad or the kids are sick, you can still shop
by shopping online.”
J.C. Penney, like all department stores, rakes in the
most sales over the Christmas holiday and hires
thousands of seasonal workers. In this photo, Penney in
Brookfield Square Mall is decked out for the 1992
retail industry is changing faster nowadays, Mathews
said, but many businesses, including traditional
department stores, are eager to keep up.
reality of stores these days, people don’t get caught up
in channels,” Mathews said, referring to different ways
of reaching customers. “But if you’re ignoring a
channel, that’s probably a detriment to your store.”
Mathews said appealing to the youngest generation of
consumers challenges stores like J.C. Penney. They’ve
started working with “influencers,” like popular name
brands or well-known YouTube stars to market their
Fashion changes rapidly and department stores must try
to keep up with trends. The most popular items sold at
J.C. Penney today are athletic clothing and Sephora
makeup, which is a far cry from what models wore during
a 1993 J.C. Penney fashion show.
a new generation
Walking into J.C. Penney from inside Brookfield Square
Mall, customers must pass dozens of Sephora makeup
displays, part of its black and white striped
Penney stores started a partnership with Sephora — a
Paris-based luxury cosmetics retailer — in 2006 with a
promise that it would only sell that brand of makeup on
JCP.com and a prominent space would be cordoned off
for the beauty products in-store.
Sephora operates a small space right inside the J.C.
Penney entrance. The luxury beauty product retailer
partnered with J.C. Penney in 2006.
Madeline Collins and her mother Rene were standing at a
counter in the Sephora store inside J.C. Penney last
week, waiting to buy a couple of products. Madeline, a
UW-Madison sophomore, was unaware she was inside a J.C.
Penney store. They had only stepped in for Sephora, she
love Sephora products,” said Rene, whose other daughter
is a cosmetologist. “They let you test stuff and return
it. It’s easy to bring stuff back.”
couldn’t recall the last time she and her daughters
shopped at J.C. Penney proper.
“When we come in here, we don’t think Penney’s,” she
and Madeline Collins aren’t alone. At least a dozen
other women were milling among the gondolas in Sephora
within J.C. Penney; almost outnumbering the shoppers
looking around the rest of the two-story department
store that afternoon.
Sephora has used the partnership as a way to drastically
increase its brick-andmortar presence, said David
Suliteanu, president and chief executive officer of
“J.C. Penney’s focus on providing relevant merchandise
to its broad customer base is consistent with our
objectives. This includes America’s youngest women,”
Suliteanu said in a statement when the pairing was
announced in 2006. “We believe that J.C. Penney will
continue to grow in size and strength for many years to