Three big box retail spaces will be empty along East Jackson Street in Macomb once the JC Penney store closes this spring. The head of the Macomb Area Economic Development Corporation (MAEDCO) views the vacancies as opportunities.
"It's opening another door for us," said Executive Director Kim Pierce. "We are working very strongly behind the scenes in trying to find the perfect tenant -- a complement for the retailers that are already here as well as for the city and the region."
The big box retail spaces that are already empty are the former Kmart store, which closed in the fall, and the former Farm King building, which closed a number of years ago. The Kmart closure was one of many across the nation, while Farm King remained in town but moved into a new building next to the HyVee grocery store on East Jackson.
Pierce said the community is strong so she's moving forward with a positive attitude. She’s optimistic about the possibility of bringing in some new shopping options and said she's already talked to several retailers that she thinks would be a good fit. And she called the empty buildings an attraction for retailers.
"We've got an opportunity here for some retailers that are expanding in 2017 and '18," she said. "Everybody likes to do expansions into already-built properties. It's a lot less expensive for them to locate if they've already identified a second-tier site, meaning it's already been built and it's been vacated versus brand new build."
Pierce said she would like to bring in retailers because those businesses would generate sales tax revenues, which benefit road and school construction projects. But she said she would also be interested in bringing in a call center because that would create good paying jobs.
JC Penney announced Friday it will close 138 stores across the nation. Other JC Penney stores closing in central Illinois are in Canton and Bloomington. The retailer said the closures are "...part of a continuing effort to advance sustainable growth and long-term profitability..."
The company said liquidation sales will begin at most locations on April 17 and store closures will happen in June.
Pierce said JC Penney has struggled to attract millennials. It's also struggled with marketing and branding issues and has seen several changes in its leadership in recent years.
"Although we hate seeing JC Penney close -- any store close in Macomb -- it has nothing to do with Macomb. It's corporate," she said.
Pierce said around 20 people work at the JC Penney in Macomb.