A new prototype J.C. Penney store is scheduled to debut in the East Valley this week. The 104,000-square-foot store at the Foothills Park Place shopping center, near the northwest corner of Interstate 10 and Ray Road on the Chandler-Ahwatukee Foothills border, has scheduled its ribbon-cutting ceremonies for 8 a.m. Friday.
But store manager Bill Ahern said the shelves are already packed full of merchandise, and the 130 new employees are ready to sell it.
Ahern expects to quietly open the doors Wednesday for the anxious shoppers who have been stopping by for weeks in hopes of gaining entrance.
The new Penney took over the space vacated nearly three years ago by a downsizing Kmart. But former Kmart shoppers will hardly recognize the place, Ahern said. The company gutted the inside, rebuilding everything from floors to walls to lighting. Penney even relocated the front doors to a more convenient center of the store, he said.
The new format is about two-thirds the size of Penney’s Superstition Springs Center department store, said Brenda Romero, corporate spokeswoman, but it carries everything the mall store sells except furniture.
Romero said the singlelevel layout has wider aisles and is easier to navigate than the traditional mall store model.
"There’s a lot of space efficiency with the prototype stores," Romero said. "A lot of square footage is saved just by not having stairs, escalators and elevators."
The off-mall stores also save space by eliminating customer service checkout centers throughout the store in favor of a single front-of-thestore checkout area similar to major rival Kohl’s. And Penney has nearly identical-to-Kohl’s black mesh shopping carts — with or without child seats — so customers can collect intended purchases and ferry them around the store until they are ready to check out.
The off-mall format was piloted in Prescott, Romero said.
It was so successful Penney decided to launch the concept nationally. The Ahwatukee Foothills Penney will be the 11th of the off-mall prototype stores to open nationwide, the third in the state and the first in the Valley. A Yuma store opened last year.
The company plans to open 20 more off-mall stores this year, she said.
One of those on the agenda is a West Valley store pegged for an October opening, Ahern said. And a Gilbert version is planned for sometime within the next two to three years, he said.
But the company targeted the East Valley for its first Phoenix metro area store because of an abundance of active Penney credit card holders in the area, Ahern said.
"We have 85,000 preferred customers in Ahwatukee, Chandler and Tempe, and we don’t have a presence in this neighborhood," he said. "That’s a lot of loyal J.C. Penney customers."
The closest mall store is Superstition Springs Center in east Mesa, he said. An outlet store at Arizona Mills mall in Tempe carries different merchandise, Ahern said.
Romero said off-mall stores are more flexible in size and cheaper to build. And they will fuel the company’s future, she said.
"We want to continue to grow by opening new stores, and having to stay within the confines of a mall is difficult, because fewer and fewer malls are being built," she said. "We didn’t want to miss out on opportunities. This way, we can be in a mall, an (open-air) shopping center or be a standalone store. We can serve our customers in so many more ways."
The off-mall stores have proved to be a hit with customers who don’t want to fight mall traffic and parking to pick up a few items, she said.