Although James Cash Penney opened his first store in 1902, at the age of twenty-six, he kept his business entirely in the western United States for the first twelve years of its existence. By 1914 he was operating about forty stores out of his Utah headquarters, but had no locations east of Montana, Wyoming, or Colorado. Not a single J. C. Penney store existed in the Midwest, and, unlike Montgomery Ward and Sears Roebuck, his chain had no catalog business to cover the agrarian region by mail order.1 However, Penney was well aware of North Dakota’s booming rural population, and he was eager to locate his stores in North Dakota’s emerging communities. In April 1914 Penney expanded his chain eastward opening new stores in Fargo, Wahpeton, and Grand Forks. Not only were these three locations the first J. C. Penney stores in North Dakota, they were also the first J. C. Penney stores in the entire Midwest. Penney would use them as commercial seeds for what would become a very visible retail presence throughout North Dakota and the region. Within sixteen years the main streets of thirty-four North Dakota towns, many of them communities with fewer than 1,000 residents, would be graced with a J. C. Penney mercantile, giving virtually every North Dakotan from town or country easy access to a national department store. Nearly all of James Cash Penney’s North Dakota stores would remain a vital part of their communities well into the latter half of the twentieth century.
North Dakota History
Kruger, David Delbert (2012). "James Cash Penney and His North Dakota Stores." North Dakota History 77.3 & 4, 2-23.