The fascination with the decline of JCPenney obscures a much bigger retail story: The traditional "department story" is in a seemingly endless death spiral.

This story is driven home in two simple charts.

First, check out this one from Citi, which breaks retail sales down into the various component parts.

You can see that for June and July, no category tanked the way department stores did.

This next chart shows the real big picture, which truly shows the death spiral.

Department store sales have been falling all century, and are now almost back to where they were in 1992.

JC Penney is just a small story in what really is the total collapse of a formerly common way people shopped.

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