The Sonora JCPenney store, which opened on South Washington Street 75 years ago and is now in The Junction shopping center, will close in late January.

Junction officials said the store will shut down because it had not been profitable, particularly when compared to the chain's much larger shopping mall outlets.

The Sonora store's 20 or so employees were informed at a morning meeting Friday that the department store will close "on or about" Jan. 31.

"Everybody was really shocked," said Joe Cunningham, a three-year employee of the East Sonora store. "Especially the people that had been there 15 or 20 years. (There was) a lot of crying."

At the meeting, employees were given an eight-page memo regarding severance pay and other benefits they can expect.

Cunningham said he will work until the store closes in order to receive his severance pay, which, for him, is three weeks salary, the memo said. He then plans to go on unemployment for about a month while he searches for a new job.

"It's sad, I think they're taking away a part of the community," Cunningham said.

Along with employees losing jobs, The Junction shopping center will lose one of its anchor tenants. JCPenney was one of the original stores at the center when it opened in 1984.

"I'm sad," said Junction Manager Margaret Davis. "I liked Penney's and I shopped Penney's."

Davis said the store had not been profitable.

Junction co-owner Tom Ryan said he had been aware of the possibility of the JCPenney closing for a while.

"They can't operate those 20,000-square-foot stores anymore," Ryan said, stating the company makes a better profit from its larger stores.

He said the company has closed almost all of its smaller stores, but left the Sonora store open because it had been there so long.

Quinton Crenshaw, a JCPenney spokesman, said closure decisions are based on store performance. He said that some small stores are still open, but the most profitable are the stores located in malls.