JCPenney is the largest company to have filed for bankruptcy protection during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thursday, it revealed a list of 154 locations it will permanently close. That number will eventually grow to 242. However, 600 will remain open.

Ashland Town Center’s JCPenney is to stay open, as of now. It’s yet another reason why the mall in Ashland is a rare find these days.

According to a Business Insider story in November 2019, a Credit Suisse report assembled in 2017 estimated that 20% to 25% of shopping malls in America would close by 2022.

Yet, Ashland Town Center is thriving.

The old saying “You can’t stir them with a stick” applies during the holiday season. The parking lot appears packed most evenings and weekends throughout the year, too.

As Kentucky slowly reopens at this stage of the coronavirus pandemic, people standing 6 feet apart are forming lines outside of T.J. Maxx daily.

Numerous malls enjoyed their heyday back in the 1980s and ’90s. Business boomed, and people flocked to these centers to eat, shop and even play — many featured amusement parks and/or movie theaters inside.

Today, hundreds of thousands of square footage lie vacant. Photos of these spacious, desolate buildings have circulated the internet. A lot of the complexes are simply left to rot. The pictures are eerie.

According to The Washington Post, mall vacancies were at an eight-year high last year.

While some major retailers’ financial issues led to their demise over the years, it negatively impacted malls.

However, the popularity of outlet malls and online shopping affected traditional malls as well.

A couple in our area, though — Ashland Town Center and Huntington Mall in Barboursville — are still going strong. Huntington Mall opened in 1981. Ashland Town Center opened in 1989.

How much life they have left remains to be seen, but they’re still community jewels at the moment.

Ashland Mayor Steve Gilmore said recently he thinks the mall and its immediate surrounding area should be considered “downtown.” Successful businesses all around the mall will only benefit the mall — and that benefit will be reciprocated.

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