Development groups search for retailer to replace J.C. Penney in Butte


BUTTE, Mont. - The clock is ticking -- Butte local development groups continue to search for a large retailer to take over the J. C. Penney location in the Butte mall. In January, J. C. Penney announced its Butte store would shutdown in May. Butte's local leaders, the mall and the Butte store banded together to try to change the company's mind. But in February, J.C. Penney's CEO said the company's decision was final and the store would close in May. Butte Local Development Corporation Executive Director Jim Smitham and his group jumped into action when they learned J. C. Penney might move out of Butte, taking a leadership role in trying to find a new store to take Penney's place. "We were originally going to try to get in really heavy into the retail recruitment game, and the more we looked into it the more we found out it's very much a situation of relationships that you have built through the years," said Smitham. Smitham turned the job over to Billings-based NAI Business Properties, one of the largest commercial real estate brokerages in Montana. "So what we're doing is we're going to be a support effort," said Smitham. In its new role, the Butte Local Development Corporation provides information on demographics and city projects to NAI to help them lure in a business to fill the hole left when Penney's closes shop. Smitham shared the latest update from NAI with NBC Montana. "Slowly but surely we are working through the process with Butte tenants. We hope they have some news soon," said Smitham. Smitham said right now the NAI has been looking at department stores, specialty shops or sporting goods stores to possibly move into the mall, and says the goal is to find a buyer before J.C. Penney's closing sale. J.C. Penney's closure will put about 30 people out of work. The manager of the Anaconda-Butte-Dillon Job Service said she's already offering help to some of those people. Marilyn Ohman said the first questions she received involved potential unemployment for Penney's workers. But the focus is limiting the time they spend out of work. She told us she's started organizing a workshop for Penney's employees to help them find jobs. "They can sit down with one of our employment specialists and find out where to go what to look at, how to update a resume -- a lot of them haven't done a resume in several years -- new interviewing tips things like that to be job-ready again," said Ohman. Ohman encourages J.C. Penney employees to take advantage of all that Butte's job service has to offer, like computers, training courses and experts. Ohman said finding a job is a job in itself and wants employees to be ready.