J.C. Penney announced it is closing 18 stores nationwide.

J.C. Penney announced it is closing 18 stores nationwide. Credit: AP/Mary Altaffer

The J.C. Penney store in Smith Haven Mall in Lake Grove will close July 5, a company spokeswoman said.

The closure is part of the company's shutdown of 18 stores across the country following a weak holiday sales season for the retailer. Additionally, nine of the company's home and furniture stores will close in the fall, Sarah Holland, the J.C. Penney spokeswoman, said. 

"The Smith Haven location employs about 100 associates, many of whom are part-time," Holland said. "Eligible associates who do not transfer to another J.C. Penney location will receive separation benefits, and all impacted associates may participate on-site in a free three-hour, career training class, which offers tips on resume writing, answering interview questions and more." 

The 18 locations scheduled to close employ more than 1,000 associates, Holland said, adding that the company is in the process of identifying how many of those employees it can retain by transferring them to other locations. 

The company reported that net income tumbled nearly 70 percent, and a key measure for financial health dropped 4 percent in the fourth quarter, the most crucial period of the year for retailers that bank on strong holiday sales.

The company did top analysts' expectations for the fourth-quarter results, and under Jill Soltau, who came on board as CEO in October, the department store chain has rid itself of unprofitable inventory and said it expects a positive cash flow this year. 

Shares rose more than 22 percent at the close of the market Thursday.

Soltau faces numerous challenges as the company tries to avoid the fate of Sears and other retailers that have filed for bankruptcy protection or closed.

In a conference call Thursday, Soltau said

changes will be swift, methodical and based on what customers want and expect from J.C. Penney. "This is not business as usual," she said.

Department stores like J.C. Penney are trying to reinvent themselves in an era when Americans are buying more online, or turning to discounters like T.J. Maxx for clothing.

The path back to prosperity appears especially tenuous for J.C. Penney. It is still trying to claw its way back after a disastrous reinvention plan in 2012 by  then CEO Ron Johnson, who dramatically cut back on promotions and brought in new brands to attract young shoppers.

"The central problem for [J.C. Penney] is that it no longer gives shoppers reasons to visit stores and to make purchases," said Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail.

Saunders lauded Soltau's leadership so far, saying J.C. Penney's travails predate her. But he said time is limited.

With Tory N. Parrish and Daysi Calavia-Robertson

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