SHERIDAN — The yellow and black JCPenney sign hanging on the Main Street storefront before its closing in summer 2017 now sits in the hands of a private collector in Billings.
Cottonwood Kitchen Shop owner Jessica Garrelts and her crew of renovators took on the task of restoring the historic JCPenney store to its original condition in preparation for Cottonwood’s new home late in 2017, with hopes of completing renovations in Spring 2018.
Two iconic pieces of JCPenney’s history remained — original tiles spelling out JCPenney on the floor of the entrance to the building and the yellow sign with black lettering. Garrelts made it a point to showcase the tile lettering on the entrance floor but had no knowledge of the outdoor sign’s location.
Former JCPenney store manager Ray Kopczynski brought the sign over from its original home hanging on the storefront of The Dalles, Oregon, JCPenney store. When The Dalles store closed, Kopczynski was offered the sign free of charge. He took it and hung it up at the store he managed in Albany, Oregon, until the company transferred him to Sheridan in 1988.
At that time, a vertical sign with neon lettering served as the lone advertisement for the Sheridan storefront.
“(The store is) in the historic district, it sure would be nice to have one of the real JCPenney signs,” Kopczynski said.
Luckily, he still owned the sign given to him in Oregon. He asked the company if they wanted to put the sign up, but they declined for liability purposes. So, Kopczynski took it upon himself, physically and financially, to hang the sign, saying it remained “in character with the rest of the town.” He put a letter in the company file stating he owned the sign and, if the company ever sold, he would remain the owner.
Over the years, Kopczynski decided he no longer had use for the sign, so he contacted the store and they purchased it from him.
Building owner Wayne Baumann told The Sheridan Press a salvage company took down the sign after the business vacated the building. Sign Products, Inc., out of Billings, Montana, which also runs an office out of Sheridan, removed the sign from the storefront and eventually sold it to Henry’s Garage out of Billings.
Henry’s Garage serves as a corporate venue that showcases old neon and porcelain signs, mostly in the automotive area.
While the venue owner anticipates hanging the JCPenney sign up somewhere within Henry’s Garage, it will likely not be removed from its foam-wrapped home in the near future. The venue will display the sign as space allows.
*Note: The print edition of this article incorrectly spelled the name of the building owner. The online version reflects the correct spelling as Wayne Baumann. The Press regrets this error.