The Americana Hotel was adjacent to the J. C. Penney tower on 6th Avenue. In its largest ballroom, fitted with theater-style seating, Bill Howell made an announcement in two successive jampacked sessions (including all associates from other buildings as well). The news was stunning, and would shortly throw the city itself into a tizzy. The J. C. Penney Company was leaving its Big Apple roots for Dallas.

Some associates were ecstatic at the promise of a better lifestyle along with the trumpeted efficiency waiting in Big D. But they were the minority. Most, upon getting the news, were dazed, furious, or resigned.

"How can I leave ? My parents and friends are here," said one person in tears.

"I'm a New Yorker, not a goddamn cowboy," said another who was steaming.

"So big deal," shrugged a third. "I've already moved seven times. What's another?"

And among Penney management there remained division, especially (but certainly not totally) between the buyers and store people.

A few months after the announcement, the annual Buyer Awards banquet was held in New York's splendid Pierre Hotel on 5th Avenue. Bill Howell had made the keynote address and said nothing at all about the upcoming move to Dallas. Dave Miller then kicked off the individual award presentations, also not mentioning a word about Dallas.

At a ballroom table near the dais, a buyer colleague leaned over to vice president Dave Fulcomer and said, "Okay, Dave, if you're so smart, answer me this. What is the subject on the mind of everyone here tonight?"

"The move to Dallas?" said Fulcomer.

"And what was noticeably absent from the remarks of our esteemed leaders ?"

"The move to Dallas?" said Fulcomer.

"Then what the hell are they so worried about?"

"The move to Dallas?" Fulcomer said with a flat chuckle. "Pardon my jest."

"So weird," said the colleague, who then took a good draft of wine.

"It's the fart-in-the-elevator syndrome," Fulcomer said as he looked back toward the dais. "Everyone knows it's here, but nobody says anything about it." Dave Fulcomer himself ”a merchandise executive known for his outspokenness as well as his quick humor ”was scheduled to appear later as one of the award presenters. As he waited his turn , he kept thinking about the subject. This audience of his fellow merchandise associates deserved better. It was their night, after all, and the tension in the room was palpable, the sense of expectation enormous . "Well," he thought, "if the esteemed leadership won't address the subject, then I will have to do it myself ."

When Jim Kennedy finished with his men's division awards, he introduced Fulcomer to cover the home division recipients. Trotting up to the podium, Fulcomer waved around the ballroom and then nearly shouted into the microphone, "Isn't this place great?!" Applause rose from the hundreds of buyers, family members , and guests ”all in tuxedos and gowns. Then the applause rolled into a cheer . Fulcomer had astutely touched a nerve . While his reference was directly to the great hotel, symbolically it was also to New York City and J. C. Penney's presence there. He raised a fist and smiled ”as he thought, "These people really need a release."

"This is New York at its best, folks," he continued . "And that's only fitting. You represent the best and brightest of the world's greatest buying corps!" That brought another cheer. "And before we continue with the awards, I have a sad-but-quick reflection followed by an upbeat, make-the-best-of-it announcement."

What came next was Fulcomer's stratagem to get everyone relaxed enough to buy into his main message: an appeal to retain as many of the veteran buyers as possible in the turbulent time to come. An appeal for them to come to Texas. First, he looked around and again indicated the ballroom. "Tonight," he said, "when we leave, every one of us should look around this elegant room for one last time because it'll soon be good-bye New York City, good-bye Pierre Hotel, and hello Texas. And I'm sure you know that, because of the expenses involved in J. C. Penney's move to Dallas, certain economies will be necessary."

He took a folded paper from his tuxedo pocket. "And some of you may also know that the man who coordinates these company events, Bruce Ackerman, [2] has to work a year in advance." He held up the folded paper. "Well, I have been able to obtain a copy of Ackerman's work-up for the invitation to next year's Buyer Awards banquet in grrreater Dallas." And he pretended to read. " ˜The 1988 Buyer Awards snack [LAUGHTER] will be held on Central Expressway at the La Quinta Motor Inn [BIG LAUGHTER] Please come as you are bring your own bottle [BIGGER LAUGHTER] and dance the night away to the toe-tapping tunes of Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, and the Foggy Mountain Boys! "

He had to wait, and then he continued. "Seriously, folks, and please hear me out on this. Without you, there is no JCPenney ” which is something I hope the rest of them never have to find out! [CHEER!] So, wher ever this evening is held next year, please follow me and the others south. Dallas has advantages. And I hope that each and every one of you is in attendance next year. Because if J. C. Penney is nothing without us, we are nothing without you! So God bless you and let's get on with the awards!" [BIG CHEER!].

At the end of the evening, Howell returned to the podium for the wrap. He was scowling. Many additional awards had been given since Fulcomer had yielded to the next presenter, and Howell's initial remark surprised and then hushed the Pierre audience. "Before I congratulate you once again and conclude these proceedings ," he said, "I have a question. Show of hands, please." He looked left and right, the master of all he surveyed. "Is there anyone else here besides Dave Fulcomer who went to Princeton?"

Howell waited for anyone to raise his or her hand. The few seconds felt like an hour ”and everyone in the ballroom knew, if they hadn't known before, that there was a new sheriff in town. Not a hand appeared from the packed ballroom, and Howell finally said, "None? Well, I thought so."

In the eyes of Fulcomer and many of his friends, this event signaled the end of his highly promising career. [3]

[2] The same Bruce Ackerman who would promote the brilliant designer who figures prominently in Chapter 17.

[3] Fulcomer retired in the late 1990s. His succinct recap of the Texas-move time: "Almost overnight, I went from an overachiever to a hanger-on."

Celebration of Fools. An Inside Look at the Rise and Fall of JCPenney
Celebration of Fools: An Inside Look at the Rise and Fall of JCPenney
ISBN: 0814471595
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2003
Pages: 177
Authors: Bill Hare

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