James Cash Penney started his business career as a clerk in the Golden Rule
Store in Evanston, Wyoming. In 1902 he opened the first store in which he had
part ownership in Kemmerer, Wyoming. In 1905, J.C. Penney himself came to
Malad to open a Golden Rule Store, which was his fifth store in Idaho.
Penney chose to focus on smaller Idaho towns, especially rural towns with
fewer than 8000 people, reasonable main street locations, and a railroad. Penney
looked for managers with the ability to manage his stores and fit into the
community. Often the manager’s wife worked as a salesclerk in the store. The
manager and his wife would usually use the store itself as a home, living in the
balcony above the rear of the sales floor. Penney had started this tradition by
operating and living in the Kemmerer store with his wife, Berta, who worked as a
Penney changed the name of his rural stores from Golden Rule Stores to J.C.
Penney Stores in 1913.
In December 1933, Samuel A. Hendricks was assigned to the position of
manager of the Malad J.C. Penney store. He adhered to Penney’s adage of
becoming an integral part of the community, living with his family in Malad and
serving in prominent community and church positions until his death in 1983.
The Penney storefront in Malad had two entrance doors with display
windows between the doors and on the outer side of each door. The Malad store
had the traditional Penney store balcony in the rear with a staircase leading up to it
on the left side of the sales floor. Later these balconies functioned as the cash
transaction area because currency was normally not exchanged or stored on the
main sales floor. Thus, whenever customers purchased items from J.C. Penney
Stores with balconies, the salesclerk took the customer’s money and placed it with
a bill of sale inside a closed container or tube, which was attached to a cable zip
line that extended from the main sales floor upward to the balcony. Once the clerk
gave the pulley a good yank, the container sailed up the cable to the balcony where
another associate retrieved the cash, made change, and inserted the change into the
container before sending the container back down.
Eventually these rear balconies became the primary location for children’s
and women’s clothing. Many a young woman found her first prom dress there. The
shoe department was directly underneath the balcony at the back of the sales floor.
Men’s and boys’ apparel was on the north side near the pinewood dressing rooms
and mirrors. Along the south side of the store were counters for wrapping parcels
and filling out receipts by hand. There were also bolts of fabric, and clerks
measured and cut fabric on those same counters. The Malad J.C. Penney Store
catered to members of the farming community, selling Western boots, hats, shirts,
work boots, overalls, belts, and jeans, especially on Saturday afternoons when
farmers and ranchers came to town.
In 1966 Sam Hendricks, along with his daughter Carol Dawn and son-in-law
Carl Willie, bought the store inventory and renamed the store the Malad
Department Store. It was later sold to Hendricks’ grandson, Robert Gordon
Crowther, who managed it until the store closed in 1985.
In 1991 the J.C. Penney building was renovated into the Iron Door
Playhouse, home of the Malad Theater Guild.
David Delbert Kruger, “Idaho and the Development of the J.C. Penney Chain.”
Personal history of S.A. Hendricks