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J.C. Penney celebrates 105th anniversary in Kalispell

by Bret Anne Serbin Daily Inter Lake
| July 28, 2019 2:00 AM

J.C. Penney Co. in Kalispell is celebrating its 105th anniversary this year, making it one of the oldest businesses in the Flathead Valley.

The department store opened in Kalispell on April 8, 1914. Since then, there have been five Penney locations, including the current store in the Kalispell Center Mall.

The first Penney store opened at 116 E. Second St. in 1914, before moving to the Buffalo Block Center in 1917. In 1924 the store relocated to the Masonic Building on Main Street and then moved again to the intersection of Main Street and Second Street in 1956, and finally settled into the current space in the mall in 1986.

J.C. Penney Human Resources Supervisor Michelle Pearson said she didn’t think many people realize the department store has been in the area for such a long time. When she tells them, she said, “they realize, ‘oh, my grandma shopped here.’”

General Manager Kevin Munsey believes J.C. Penney has had such a long life in Kalispell because the company has “constantly tried to evolve and be relevant.” Over the store’s many decades, he believes that J.C. Penney has tried to tailor its offerings to the needs of the community, transitioning from providing automobile parts and tools in the mid-20th Century to adding Sephora makeup just over a year ago.

He said the retail store also understands the role it plays in communities like Kalispell that are not easily connected to major transportation routes. J.C. Penney initially launched in the small mining town of Kemmerer, Wyoming, in 1902, so Munsey said the company has had a long history of serving shoppers in more isolated areas.

At the same time, the Kalispell location also serves large numbers of tourists. Unlike other J.C. Penney locations, August is the Kalispell store’s busiest month. Merchandising Supervisor Sue Aylesworth, who has been worked at J.C. Penney for nearly 38 years,, said they see an “onslaught” of out-of-town shoppers in the summer, many of them looking for Montana products, reasonably priced textiles and coats for the Montana weather. Munsey said they currently don’t carry any local vendors, but it’s an idea that he has been considering for a while.

Despite the closing of large retail stores such as Herberger’s, the Kalispell Penney’s store leadership emphasized “personal touch” as one of the sources of the store’s longevity. Munsey said at least half of J.C. Penney associates have been with the Kalispell store for many years and know hundreds of customers by name. Aylesworth agreed.

The store’s executives also pointed out that the Kalispell J.C. Penney’s “fairly unique” offerings have “sustained us” — services such as operating such as a small distribution center that ships 100 items per week and offering in-store returns for catalog and online purchases. They said shoppers might not realize the store includes a salon, custom window treatments and a lifetime guarantee on proprietary brands.

“Everything can happen in one store,” said Munsey.

In spite of these offerings, Pearson said some customers wonder about the future of the company. Aylesworth said many shoppers ask when J.C. Penney will be permanently closing, but Pearson wants local shoppers to “know we’re going to be around awhile.”

In order to get “reinvigorating life brought back in” to the 105-year-old store, Munsey said they are trying to “bridge the gap between my grandma’s store and my store” for young shoppers in particular. Adding makeup back after 30 years through the partnership with Sephora is one of the keys to this endeavor. Munsey also stated that, to his knowledge, J.C. Penney is “one of the only options for dressier attire in Kalispell.”

“We look at the marketplace and see what the need is,” he said.

Reporter Bret Anne Serbin may be reached at or 758-4459.