NEW YORK — J.C. Penney Co. Inc. has stores in every New York borough except Manhattan, but that might be next.

Penney’s is looking for 30,000 square feet or more for its first Manhattan location, confirmed Yair Staav, a broker for Lansco here, who is conducting the search with Welco Realty, the retail chain’s exclusive broker.

The retailer is said to be interested in the 34th Street corridor. However, Staav said he will present different options, such as SoHo. He declined to comment further.

“Our real estate people are looking at properties on a daily basis,” a Penney’s spokesman said. “We are in a growth mode. We’re looking at opening 50 stores each year for the next three years, but we are not talking about specific locations.”

Penney’s, based in Plano, Tex., has had flirtations with Manhattan. The company in March opened a pop-up store at 1 Times Square that showcased Penney’s technology. Shoppers were able to purchase — but not take home — the complete merchandise offering at 22 Internet kiosks in the 15,000-square-foot space.

“It was very successful,” the Penney’s spokesman said. “It got a lot of attention. It was primarily a branding effort.”

Penney’s announced Thursday that first-quarter earnings increased 22.1 percent and that the company had raised its full-year guidance. The retailer last month said that it will open Sephora beauty departments in its stores and embark on a $3 billion store construction and renovation plan. Penney’s also has been upgrading its apparel offerings. The company launched women’s private label brands a.n.a. and East 5th this year. In 2005, it launched a line designed by Nicole Miller.

It hasn’t been easy for mass merchants and department stores to locate in Manhattan. Wal-Mart, Target and Nordstrom have been eyeing locations here for years. Kmart has two stores in Manhattan and Home Depot opened a downsized store on the lower level of the new Bloomberg tower. Bloomingdale’s opened a scaled-down version of its 59th Street flagship in SoHo.

“The moderate apparel department store business in Manhattan doesn’t make a lot of sense,” said a retail analyst, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Off-price seems to work and better and luxury does well….The more contemporary your assortments are, the better you’re going to do in New York.”

This story first appeared in the May 15, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.