Fort Henry Mall sees future in community-based businesses after JCPenney closure

Local

KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – The Fort Henry Mall is set to lose one of its main anchor stores with the announcement of JCPenney closing.

The company declared bankruptcy in May and announced the closure of 154 stores on Thursday. Kingsport’s location was on the list.

The store has yet to reopen from its closure due to COVID-19. A release from the company said liquidation sales for closing stores will begin June 12th.

In a statement to News Channel 11, the mall’s operator suggested their vision for Fort Henry involves less emphasis on big chains and more on locally-owned businesses.

“The loss of JCPenney is not a reflection on Kingsport or the Fort Henry Mall but instead, it is a reflection of the new realities of the retail,” Hull Property Group wrote.

Glen Moody owns I Love Books bookstore next to the soon-to-be-closed JCPenney. He knows the retail landscape is constantly evolving.

“Penneys is a great company, they’re just caught right in the middle of a lot of different things. The online sales but also the COVID-19,” said Moody. “In recent, even the last ten years, I see more and more local businesses being stabilized, and national chains closing.”

Glen Moody works in I Love Books bookstore

The Fort Henry Mall has lost other chains like Sears, Victoria’s Secret, and Piccadilly. Its remaining anchor tenants are Belk and Dunham’s Sports.

Going forward, Hull Property Group plans to focus more on bringing in local and regional businesses.

“We see the future of retail in small markets being more community-based,” the group’s statement read. “Now is a great opportunity for regional and local businesses and entrepreneurs to fill the retail void with ideas that extend beyond chain retail stores into healthcare, fitness, food, baked goods, specialty shops, apparel boutiques, maker spaces and ventures, experiences and other internet businesses that can benefit from a physical presence.”

Community-based businesses include the mall’s new store, Urban Market, which opened in May. Urban Market vendor Kristy Riley described the regional-local business approach as “the downtown feel in the mall setting.”

Riley, along with Urban Market owner Maria Austin, said they’re sad to lose foot traffic JCPenney might have brought them. But they think the mall’s initiative to develop more local businesses is a good thing.

Urban Market’s new location in the Fort Henry Mall. The store has another location in downtown Kingsport

“It benefits the local entrepreneurs that can’t really afford to have a storefront, and now they can. We’ve been pretty happy,” said Austin.

“Yeah, the vendors have been very happy with the sales and the traffic,” Riley added.

Moody remains optimistic about the mall’s future.

“Penneys, it’s sad to see them closing. But that happens,” he said. “Chains close, stores close. New stores open, new things happen, and there’s a different day tomorrow.”

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