The Plano, Texas, company said in a release posted on its website the moves will save it about $65 million a year.
J.C. Penney said the under-performing stores will sell off their remaining inventory over the next several months and close their doors for good by early May.
Offsetting the 33 closures will be the opening of one new store in New York City's Brooklyn borough.
"As we continue to progress toward long-term profitable growth, it is necessary to re-examine the financial performance of our store portfolio and adjust our national footprint accordingly," Chief Executive Officer Myron E. "Mike" Ullman III said. "While it's always difficult to make a business decision that impacts our valued customers and associates, this important step addresses a strategic priority to improve the profitability of our stores and position J. C. Penney for future success."
The company, which has about 1,100 stores, has struggled to find a marketing strategy that will allow it to return to profitability.
J.C. Penney's stock was stable at $7.00 a share in after-hours trading.