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PLANO, TX-J.C. Penney is opening 20 new stores today as part of its accelerated expansion plans. The units will open across the country in 13 different states.

The store openings are part of the retailer’s strategy to place stores in open-air centers as opposed to malls. Of the 20 opening today, 17 will be off mall, and of the 50 stores per year the company is forecasting for openings between next year and 2009, 80% to 90% are expected to open in developments outside of malls.

Most of the off-mall units will be about 100,000 sf on a single level. The stores will have wider aisles than their traditional-format units, as well as new lighting designs and customer-service areas. “Our off-mall stores have exceeded our expectations, generating higher sales per square foot than our mall-based stores and more frequent visits by customers,” says Myron Ullman, the company’s chairman and CEO.

The new stores will be in Trussville, AL.; Rogers, AR; Aurora, Fort Collins, Longmont, and Westminster, CO; Fort Myers, FL; Kansas City, KS; Dardenne Prairie, MO; North Conway, NH; Olean, NY; Harrisburg, PA; Columbia, SC; Murfreesboro, TN; Fort Worth, Pasadena and San Antonio, TX; South Jordan, UT; and two in Austin, TX. The company will operate 1,041 units after the openings.

J.C. Penney executives also announced that stores will begin carrying exclusive Liz Claiborne merchandise in the spring. For both men and women, the products include casual, formal and sports apparel, as well as accessories and handbags.

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