Ashland, WI (Northland's NewsCenter) - "Today we're here to show support for our downtown. We have a strong downtown and we want to keep it strong," said Ashland City Council member Joyce Kabasa, sign in hand, and on the street in front of JC Penny.
Kabasa wasn't the only one on Main Street in Ashland, Wisconsin earlier Saturday that felt that way. In fact, participants at the rally to keep JC Penny open weren't even limited to Ashland residents.
"Ashland, Washburn, Bayfield, Park Falls, Ironwood, Madeline Island came over in the chilly day," said Mary Beth Monroe, Director of Public Relations for the Ashland Area Chamber of Commerce.
Words like "anchor" and "hub" were often used by those present, and it's no surprise, as JC Penny has been a staple for the Ashland community since it opened its doors in 1925.
"To have a great chain like that for 86 years, we don't want anyone to pull the plug. We want it to stay here," said Monroe.
Sentiments aside, it was also for practical reasons many attended the rally. Many residents claimed JC Penny has always been their favorite—and main—location when it came to shopping for clothing, both young and old. Ashland's able–bodied elderly residents have been calling it their store for decades.
"They don't get into a car and drive onto the outskirts for a store.
Their main store for clothes is Penny," said Kabasa.
Though it's still unclear why corporate headquarters decided to pull the plug on Ashland, many claim it's due to the location itself, as the building is in need of updates and renovations. A JC Penney headquarters spokesperson also said sales in Ashland did not measure up to expectations.
"The rumors don't matter today, why doesn't matter today. What matters today is that we're joining together to save JC Penny," said Monroe.
And that's exactly what attendees of Saturday's rally intend to do, regardless of the odds. A small number of rally–goers passed out leaflets with the addresses of both Ron Johnson—CEO of JC Penny—and Tim Lyons—director of Penny's Public Relations. The objective was simple:
"We're encouraging them to write letters, call, e–mail, and take the time to show these corporate folks that we really want our JC Penny here in Ashland," said Mary McPhetridge, also with the Ashland Area Chamber of Commerce.
And no matter what Corporate Headquarters decides in the end, it was clear on Saturday that—if Ashland were to lose the fight—they would be losing a lot more than just a store.
"We really want Penny here. It's the anchor that keeps small–town America together," said Kabasa, emotionally.
In a statement made earlier by JC Penny Corporate, they plan on keeping the Ashland location open no later than January 27th.