Jim Lippold pauses for a picture during his final day of work last week at the La Grande J.C. Penney store. Lippold retired following 38 years with the company, the last 20 as manager of the La Grande and Pendleton stores. BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH / The Observer
Retiring manager of La Grande store landed a job as drapery installer for Penney’s in 1973 and has worked for the department store chain ever since
The historic J.C. Penney department store on Adams Avenue goes right on enduring, but after last week it’s enduring without Jim Lippold.
Lippold, manager of both the La Grande and Pendleton Penney’s stores, retired from his job Feb. 1 following a 38-year career with Penney’s. He said he and his wife Bonita plan to stick around La Grande for awhile, then possibly move away to be closer to children and grandchildren.
He’ll be back for visits, though, and always with a fishing pole.
“I’ll be back every October. There are a lot of steelhead around here with my name on them,” he said.
Lippold was born and raised in Herndon, a small town in Rawlins County in northwest Kansas. After high school, he moved on to Denver, Colo., where in 1973 he landed a job as a drapery installer for Penney’s. He found the company to his liking, and never worked for another.
“I progressed through various positions, department manager, auto center manager, assistant manager,” he said.
Twenty years ago, he was offered the chance to manage the La Grande store, and took it. First, though, he spent some time checking out the town.
“I did a lot of research about La Grande, and I liked it that it was in the mountains, had a college, and was on the freeway. Those were all good things,” he said.
Twelve years ago, he progressed upward through the J.C. Penney ranks once more. He became a “cluster store manager,” meaning that he would run the outlets both in La Grande and Pendleton.
“Cluster manager is the same thing as store manager times two,” he said. “You do all the planning and executing of a retail store. You check on results, check employee schedules, make sure the sales floor is ready for customers, and handle all the tasks that need to be handled,” he said.
J.C. Penney’s roots go all the way back to the early 1900s when James Cash Penney and two partners opened the Golden Rule Store in Kemmerer, Wyo. The three men opened two more such stores before dissolving their partnership in 1907.
Penney continued with the enterprise and by 1912 had 34 stores in the northwestern states. In 1913, the company was incorporated under the new name J.C. Penney Company.
There’s been a Penney store in La Grande since at least 1914; Lippold said he thinks the La Grande outlet might have been a Golden Rule store first, though he isn’t sure.
“I know that the Pendleton store was,” he said.
In 1934, the La Grande J.C. Penney store moved from Depot Street to its current location at 1309 Adams Ave. Since then, it’s bucked a trend. Beginning in the 1950s, many Penney stores moved from central business districts to suburban shopping centers, but the La Grande outlet has staunchly continued as a downtown anchor business.
“I don’t know know why they never moved, but I’m glad they didn’t. This is a good store,” Lippold said.
Lippold said that over the years he has seen J.C. Penney change and grow for the better. He said he thinks the company, which has 1,100 stores dealing in clothing, jewelry, furniture, home decor, toys and much more, has worked hard to make sure customers are satisfied.
“The flavor of the merchandise has changed. It’s more fashionable, stylish and up to date,” he said.
The 60-year-old Lippold said he has enjoyed his time with the company, and especially has enjoyed working and living in La Grande.
“I think it was a good solid career with a big company, and the last 20 years have been like living in paradise,” he said.
He added, “I’ll miss the customers and the employees most of all.”
Cindy Mort, from Bend, has taken took over manager’s responsibilities from Lippold.