JC Penney stores a mess? Nothing new here, folks

Forget Lindsay Lohan. What people really want to see photos of are train-wreck department stores.

Snapshots of retail stores in disarray have become an inexplicably clicky meme over the last year. Analyst Brian Sozzi has even become an amateur retail paparazzo, snapping "shocking" photos of messy Sears and Kmart stores that have caused an online stir.

Now, someone who says he's a 17-year veteran of JC Penney (JCP) has taken photos of poor conditions at his company's stores and shared them with The Huffington Post. The employee didn't want to be named, he said, because he worried about retaliation by his employer. 

And though The Huffington Post called the pictures "devastating," for the most part, they really don't look that bad. Clothes are tossed next to cash registers, yes, and shoppers have utterly ransacked a $4 sale display. A pair of ink-washed denim jeans with an original price of $49.50 were marked down three times to a clearance price of $14. A few pairs of boxer shorts had fallen from a display. 

The worst photo is an exterior shot showing three letters missing from a JC Penney sign. The company didn't return a request for comment by CBS MoneyWatch.

It's unclear when or where these photos were taken, which would add some context. Were they snapped in the chaos of the holidays, or is this par for the course at Penney?

Many commenters on The Huffington Post defended the store, saying it's easy for clothing sections to look disheveled after a hearty going-over by avid shoppers. "The two JCP's in my area do not and never have looked like these photos," wrote one commenter. "They are clean, organized, and up-to-date." 

The photos got some attention on Twitter, also. "I think the best thing we can do right now is start a competition for young design artists to rebrand the J.C. Penney name," wrote one user. "Too many people think of J.C. Penney and think of [racks] of clothes lingering in unrelated sections. It's time to change that."

Disheveled racks of clothes are the least of Penney's problems. Former CEO Ron Johnson left the retailer reeling and directionless when he was fired last year. Its stock price has plunged to $6 from more than $40 two years ago. Major shareholders have dumped their stakes

There's more: The top money guy, chief financial officer Ken Hannah, just left. Penney is closing 33 stores this spring and cutting 2,000 jobs. Some analysts say bankruptcy is entirely possible.

This company is a train wreck, all right, but you don't need photos of scattered clothes and discounted jeans for evidence. That's nothing compared to what's happening at the top. 
  • Kim Peterson

    Kim Peterson is a financial journalist covering business and the economy. She has written for several online and print publications, including MSN Money and The Seattle Times.