JCPenney celebrates rich history during Johnson City’s sesquicentennial

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JOHNSON CITY, TN (WJHL)- As Johnson City continues to celebrate the milestone of 150 years, one department store that got its start downtown is also celebrating its rich history.

When JCPenney first opened their doors back in the early 1920’s, General Manager of the Johnson City store, John Wright, said it was the second store in the state. 

JCPenney’s first location in Johnson City was downtown, and in the 1980’s moved to the Mall at Johnson City, where it still stands today. 

“It shows you Johnson City was on the map because this company, over 116 years old, started in the Northwest, and when they started migrating south…and they looked at Tennessee, this is the region they felt would be the strongest JCPenney core customer, and we’ve proven that,” Wright said.

When we spoke to Wright on Wednesday, he was standing inside the original JCPenney location downtown, helping his employees with a window display featuring photos of the department store throughout the years.

“We can show the younger crowd what it was like, because you know retail in general is different, the economy was different, socks were 8 cents a pack…most of this generation has never seen any of this, it is a great example of how we can mesh generations together, because there is a lot of history in this region as well,” Wright said.

Someone who knows a lot about JCPenney’s original location is someone who managed the store in the late 1970’s, Harvey Justice.

Justice said when he came to Johnson City he had been managing a smaller store in Kentucky.

“To get a store the size of Johnson City at my age back then was pretty good, of course, I was just happy as a pig in the sunshine in that store, big promotion and just a good opportunity for me,” Justice said.

It’s stories like the one Harvey Justice told us Wednesday that so many can relate to.

Brenda Whitson with the Johnson City Convention & Visitors Bureau said she too remembers when the downtown location was open.

Whitson was part of the team helping to put together a display for the public inside the old department store downtown.

While the City of Johnson City has already revealed the contents of a time capsule, they are opening the doors once again to allow people to take in the city’s history.

Whitson said the old JCPenney store downtown at 309 E. Main Street will be open on March 15th and 16th from 1-4p.m. and again on April 6th, and 27th during that same time frame.

The public will have a chance to view old photos of the department store, different landmarks around town, a model train and other memorabilia. 

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