J.C. Penney ($JCP) announced that it will close three stores by March, blaming a 3.5% drop in same-store sales during the holiday season. It's the latest retailer to feel the squeeze of the "retail apocalypse." These closure come while Sears, a long-standing direct rival in the retail space, becomes a husk of its former self.

According to J.C. Penney store data scraped as of October 2018, the company has 853 locations across 49 states and Puerto Rico.

At one point in its history, J.C. Penney had over 1,100 stores across all 50 states and Puerto Rico, but several waves of closures between 2015 and today caused the company to shrink its footprint by one-fifth.

When J.C. Penney made its store closure announcement on January 9, 2019, it did not reveal the locations of the closed stores. But by looking at proximity data — both to itself and where its competitors closed stores — and where it has stopped listing jobs, we can begin to predict where J.C. Penney will leave by March.

Note: Everything past this point is based on speculation through data taken from J.C. Penney's store data and other sources.

Stores in close proximity

First, a look at J.C. Penney stores that are within close proximity to each other. When Mattress Firm decided to close stores, it looked at locations that were close to one other, such as in Illinois where 69% of its stores were within a one-mile radius of each other. 

According to our database, there are zero open J.C. Penney stores that meet "Mattress Firm syndrome;" none are within a one-mile radius of one other. In fact, the closest crow-flies distance between two J.C. Penney stores is 2.18 miles in the San Diego metro area.

Here's a list of the top-ten stores that are closest to one another (subscribers can see the full list here):

Street City State J.C. Penney Location Name Distance to Next Closest JC Penney (in Miles) 
3040 Plaza Bonita Rd National City CA Plaza Bonita  2.18
591 Broadway Chula Vista CA Chula Vista S/C  2.18
100 W 32nd St New York NY Manhattan Mall  3.07
10 Mall Dr W Jersey City NJ Newport Ctr  3.07
6931 S Memorial Dr Tulsa OK Woodland Hills Mall  3.57
4101 S Yale Ave Tulsa OK Tulsa Promenade  3.57
3650 New Center Pt Colorado Springs CO First & Main Town Ct  3.67
680 Citadel Dr E Colorado Springs CO The Citadel  3.67
63 Serramonte Ctr Daly City CA Serramonte Ctr  3.78
1122 El Camino Real San Bruno CA Tanforan S/C  3.78

Of course, there are other department stores — past and present — that set up shop next to J.C. Penney, but met their demise sooner than the place where there is "Style and Value for All."

Closed Macy's vs. J.C. Penney Locations

Looking at retailers that shuttered completely — Sears and Bon-Ton — isn't as helpful when comparing their closed store footprints to that of J.C. Penney's current one. They were much too big, they failed completely, and no longer exist.

Rather than look at the shell of Sears or the bones of Bon-Ton, the current state of Macy's ($M) is one to explore. In Q3 2018, Macy's reported that it had 652 Macy's department stores across America. Since we started tracking Macy's in April 2017, we've seen 95 URLs to store locations delisted, indicating that those locations were closed. 

Among those 95 stores, here are the ten that are closest to existing J.C. Penney stores:

Street City State Distance to Next Closest JC Penney (in Miles)
3515 E. State Street Hermitage PA  0.06
237 Woodbridge Center Dr Woodbridge Township NJ  0.09
3700 Atlanta Highway Georgia Square Mall Athens GA  0.10
601 Harry L Drive Johnson City NY  0.10
801 North Central Expressway Plano TX  0.10
8201 South Tamiami Trail Sarasota FL  0.10
11001 Carolina Place Pkwy. Pineville NC  0.10
183 Pavilions Drive Manchester CT  0.10
801 N. Congress Avenue Boynton Beach FL  0.10
575 Union Street Waterbury CT  0.10

Most of these locations are in malls, where two department stores could be competing for the same customers within 500 feet of each other.

This alone may not give an idea of where J.C. Penney will close, but its job listings data might.

J.C. Penney Job Listings

J.C. Penney hiring has ebbed and flowed over the past 9 months, with the company experiencing a slight post-holiday hiring drop according to the number of job listings on its careers platform.

Today, J.C. Penney has been hiring for positions in over 800 cities, which isn't a surprise given its reach. Through that data captured for months, we can compare where job openings were several months ago during a peak hiring period, and compare them where they are now in order to find a pattern with locations that have less listings.

With that in mind, here were the cities with the biggest drop in job openings  since November 13, 2018, which was when hiring was peaking for the season.

City State 13-Nov Currently Difference
Tampa Florida 27 14 -13
Houston Texas 57 45 -12
Langhorne Pennsylvania 20 12 -8
Clearwater Florida 14 7 -7
Salem New Hampshire 17 10 -7
Elmhurst New York 22 15 -7
Culver City California 12 6 -6
Forest Park Georgia 41 35 -6
Boise Idaho 12 6 -6
Des Peres Missouri 21 15 -6
Toledo Ohio 13 7 -6
Portland Oregon 24 18 -6
Greenville South Carolina 16 10 -6
Myrtle Beach South Carolina 18 12 -6

Here were the changes in hiring between the cities that either had a Macy's that shut down nearby, or that make our closest proximity list:

City State 13-Nov Currently Difference
Woodbridge New Jersey 13 10 -3
San Bruno California 18 15 -3
Sarasota Florida 14 12 -2
Daly City California 15 13 -2
Hermitage Pennsylvania 9 8 -1
Johnson City New York 5 4 -1
Boynton Beach Florida 12 11 -1
New York New York 12 11 -1
Tulsa Oklahoma 25 24 -1
Colorado Springs Colorado 19 18 -1
Athens Georgia 10 10 0
Pineville North Carolina 7 7 0
Waterbury Connecticut 9 9 0
Jersey City New Jersey 9 9 0
Plano Texas 9 10 1
Manchester Connecticut 13 14 1
National City California 13 14 1
Chula Vista California 7 8 1

Could it only be three store closures in 2019? Or just for the Spring?

If one were to jump to conclusions, one would see Woodbridge Township, New Jersey, as a potential site for closure. Or one could point to Houston, Texas, where J.C. Penney has the second-most stores in a single city with 4 locations and 12 job openings dropped in two months, as a place to watch for movement. Or one would see that the Daly City and San Bruno, California locations are within a four-mile radius of each other and saw a net job opening decrease of 5 over the past two months.

In any case, fitting the closures down to three locations may not be necessary; analysts are saying that the department store will have to close 20-100 stores to get a healthier portfolio.

As always, we'll keep an eye on these current trends to see where J.C. Penney decides to shut down stores... And how many they actually shut down in 2019.

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