Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Albion Recorder, September 29, 1997, pg. 4
As America’s "big name" department and retail stores moved off "main street" and into big city shopping malls during the 19790s, Albion’s downtown business section suffered greatly, as local residents found they had to drive to Westwood Mall in Jackson, or Lakeview Square Mall in Battle Creek, to shop at stores which formerly were located right on Superior Street. Within the next decade, much of downtown Albion was transformed from retail outlets into service establishments, such as beauty salons, physicians’ offices, exercise gyms, non-profit service organizations, and the like. Only in recent years have we seen the retail businesses make a comeback. One thing I have observed is that business must be good if you cannot find a parking space on Superior St. in downtown Albion. There was a time not long ago when you could park wherever you wanted.
One retail outlet that was located here was the J. C. Penney Company, for many years a landmark at 301-303 S. Superior St. Penney’s came to Albion in the early 1920s, and was first located at 123 N. Superior St., where it remained until around 1930. At that time it moved to larger remodeled quarters at 301 and 303 S. Superior St, which formerly had been occupied by the Albion Gas Light Company, and Kostianes Brothers Confectionery, respectively.
The manager of the local Penney’s outlet for 20 years form 1925 until 1945 was King G. Cornell (1884-1968), who successfully managed the store through the Great Depression of the 1930s. It was during this time that the great J.C. Penney himself paid a visit to Albion. In addition to his retail and philanthropic abilities, Penney was a noted breeder of Guernsey cattle and thoroughbred Percheron horses. He visited out community on June 12, 1935, to view the herd of Guernseys at the Haven Hills Dairy Farm, owned by the George Dean family. The Haven Hills Dairy Farm, of course, was well known, and some Albion residents still have milk bottles used by this firm. It was located across from where Victory Park is now, on the West Side of Haven Lane. The fact that Mr. Penney would make a special visit to see the Haven Hills cattle is an indication of the fine reputation of our local dairy herd.
While here, Mr. Penney visited the Albion store and met its employees. He then accompanied Mr. Cornell down to Hillsdale where a big district employees meeting was held. While still here in Albion, he gave some advice to the youth of our community: "If I had a message for the youth of the country, it would be that prestige is not necessary for success, perseverance and willingness to work being essential."
This week we present a 1962 photograph of the east side of the 300 block of S. Superior St., showing the location of the J. C. Penney Company. Penney’s closed in 1981, and even today this building remains vacant despite valiant attempts to utilize the retail space found inside. Nothing has been found to "fill the shoes" of the great name which once occupied this site. A look at the other business establishments in this photo reveals that these, too, are now gone: Merit Shoes, McClellan’s, G. C. Murphy Company, and Gambles Hardware. Only Albion Hardware remains, which is a testimony to the advantages of local ownership and a loyal customer base.
J.C. Penney Storefront on Superior Street in 1962
All text copyright, 2020 © all rights reserved Frank Passic