Tom Callahan had interests in some 20 Golden Rule stores in small Colorado and Wyoming towns located on railroads (a key ingredient). The chain was an amalgamation of partnerships that Callahan oversaw with practical ingenuity, installing several innovative concepts developed over many years as a dry goods merchant. One was no-haggle pricing. Another was cash-and-carry. Most important was astute buying by a small committee empowered to make wholesale purchases for all stores. Thus, on semiannual buying trips to the East, the "Golden Rule syndicate" became one of the most powerful wholesale shoppers and obtained excellent credit ratings from R. G. Dun's Mercantile Reference Book and Bradstreet's Commercial Reports. (The Kemmerer store, as a syndicate member, enjoyed a better rating than the mining company store!)
Callahan operated out of the syndicate's biggest store in Longmont, Colorado. Longmont had served as a training store, with head clerks ("first men") being tapped to open new stores in partnership with Callahan. Former first man Guy Johnson had been set up in Evanston (on the same basis that Johnson and Callahan would later set up Penney in Kemmerer). At about the time Johnson was getting his operation established in the corner of southwestern Wyoming, down the street from the Longmont Golden Rule, Jim Penney's butcher shop closed.  Broke, his savings gone, he applied for a job clerking for Tom Callahan. The merchant had been a customer of Penney's and had admired the young man's thoroughness and hustle. Penney was hired , and within a year he became a Callahan favorite. In the next year, Penney was on his way to Evanston. He would develop further under Johnson, be promoted to first man, and eventually be pointed at a likely new location by the senior partners . It was a great opportunity, and ordinarily Penney would have been thrilled with his new prospects. But two secrets held him down: his lack of self-confidence , which was an outgrowth of the failed butcher shop, and the fact that his girlfriend was pregnant.
 Penney could no longer force himself to deliver a weekly quart of whiskey to the chef at Longmont's biggest hotel. He quickly lost the hotel's business and soon went belly-up.