J.C. Penney (OTC:JCPN.Q) may be no more. Private equity firm Sycamore Partners is offering to buy the bankrupt department store for $1.75 billion and then merge it with troubled peer Belk, causing the once-venerable retailer's name to disappear.

Sycamore's bid is so far the highest among those received, including a $1.7 billion bid from Saks Fifth Avenue owner Hudson's Bay and a $1.65 billion joint proffer from mall operators Simon Property Group and Brookfield Property.

Black Friday crowds at J.C. Penney

Image source: J.C. Penney.

A good, long run

J.C. Penney has been around since 1902 and it listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1927. The retailer filed for bankruptcy in May and today trades on the pink sheets as a penny stock.

Yet despite its long lineage, the hedge fund apparently believes there is more residual value in Belk, a North Carolina-based department store that mainly sells in the South and whose lineage extends even further back than J.C. Penney's, having been founded in 1888.

The New York Post reports Sycamore views J.C. Penney as "the lifeboat for Belk, which wants to compete with Macy's nationally."

Belk has 300 stores; J.C. Penney operated around 850 when it filed for bankruptcy, but planned to close over 240 by the fall.

Others have been rumored to be interested in acquiring the department store, including Amazon.com and brand licensing leader Authentic Brands Group, which has teamed with Simon Property Group in the past to acquire Aeropostale and Forever 21, and has made bids for Lucky Brand and, more recently, men's clothier Brooks Brothers.

Sycamore Partners, though, backed out of a deal in May to acquire Victoria's Secret from L Brands, alleging the retailer had violated the contract by closing its stores during the pandemic.