HAZLE TOWNSHIP -- The manager of the Laurel Mall in the Hazleton area says the search to find a replacement for the closing JCPenney store is already underway.
She says the mall was caught off guard by JCPenney’s announcement Wednesday that it is closing that store and 32 others.
We found loyal shoppers who were also surprised.
For some of the shoppers heading into JCPenney, it's hard to imagine the Laurel Mall without it.
“I was surprised when we were told it was closing,” said Lois Koslosky of McAdoo.
“It's upsetting. It's a good store,” said Joann Paul of Freeland.
“It's devastating,” said former employee Caryolyn Katona. “Even though it was rumored for so long, I am so sad. I worked there for 10 and a half years and I loved it.”
Katona left her job at JCPenney two months ago. She knew the company was struggling nationwide in recent years but is still stunned hearing this store in the Hazleton area will really close.
“It's very emotional. It's like somebody died because it was part of my life.”
JCPenney is one of three anchor stores at the mall, along with Kmart and Boscov's.
The mall manager says Boscov's is doing really well, but there have been a lot of other stores close recently and shoppers are noticing.
“It seems like when we do come to the mall someone says ‘this store is closing, this store is closing,’ so it's getting to be a concern I think,” said Ellen Staruch of Hazle Township.
With so many stores already gated and JCPenney about to be gated soon, stores still at the mall are hoping the big hole gets filled soon.
“I just hope that someone finds this little corner and finds a spot for themselves there,” said Laurie Veet.
Veet is manager at the Cigar Box, right near JCPenney. A lot of this store's neighbors have been closing.
While we were there, Veet shared a hug with a JCPenney employee who will be leaving soon.
“We are friends, we are family, even though they worked at a different store. We passed each other every day for 20 years. We are like family to each other.”
“It's sad. I wish stores would come in and stay for a long time. It seems everything just comes and goes,” Paul said.
The manager of the Laurel Mall says there have been some struggles there because of the rough economy and high unemployment in the area but that it is a priority to replace JCPenney.
It is planning to close at the beginning of May.