This is the fourth installation in a five-part series on the area of town known as the Westside. Today’s article is about business on the Westside. Previous articles looked at the role of the faith community and crime on the Westside. The final article in this series will focus on the people of the Westside.
What is now referred to as the Westside of Turlock used to be considered just outside of the center of town three decades ago. The Westside prospered from the thriving downtown business that drew shoppers from miles away.
Through the years, as new business parks opened on the north and east sides of town, the Westside, along with the downtown area, suffered.
Today, businesses on the Westside are a mix of long-time occupants and new entrepreneurs. While businesses on the Westside — like everyone else — are struggling with the current economic recession, there are also those who are capitalizing on the unique opportunities that an older side of town offers.
A look back
Many long-time residents of Turlock remember when downtown was the only shopping destination for miles around. Back in the 1970s and 80s, JC Penney, Woolworth’s and the Mercantile were just a few of the dozens of retail stores along Main Street. And the town’s only movie theatre was located on the corner of Olive and Broadway, making the downtown area a venue for nightlife activities.
“Forty years ago when I moved to town, downtown Turlock was the main hub of business,” said Turlock Chamber of Commerce CEO Sharon Silva.
The downtown area also boasted a vibrant Farmer’s Market which ran six blocks down Main Street with 60 vendors and 14 farmers selling their wares.
The thriving activity in and around Main Street not only benefited downtown businesses, but also provided a steady stream of foot traffic for retail businesses further down West Main Street and along Lander Avenue.
“Back in the late 1970s, New Deal on Lander was the biggest store in Turlock,” said Oscar Avila, former employee of New Deal and current Cost Less Market manager.
Then the move north began.
Development on Geer Road going towards California State University, Stanislaus started in the 80s. Then, in the 90s, more and more retail parks popped up along Fulkerth Road. In the past 20 years, Monte Vista Avenue has been the site of new development.
“Businesses moved away from downtown and there was blight,” Silva said.
In the mid-1990s, the City of Turlock made a pivotal decision that, arguably, made the difference in whether Turlock was going to abandon or embrace its past. In the early 90s it became apparent that the Turlock Police Department had outgrown their facility, said former city manager Steve Kyte.
Back then there was no Redevelopment Agency funding to cushion the financial blow on the city’s budget, so they began to look at remodeling an existing building, said Kyte. The City Council and city staff at that time decided to remodel City Hall — which was located on Palm Street — and move the city government offices elsewhere.
Silva, then CEO of the Turlock Downtown Association, and a group of other community members advocated for City Hall to come back to the downtown area. After looking at other locations, the City Council decided to remodel the former Blue Shield office building at 156 S. Broadway.
“We learned a whole lot about what it takes to recondition a building,” said Kyte.
Fifteen years later, Kyte is still convinced they made the right decision in moving City Hall to the Westside of downtown.
“It created a whole lot of opportunity for other businesses in the area,” he said. “It also created a different kind of awareness for the council and city staff. We were in better positions to talk to people in that general area about their problems, because we shared them.”
Kyte, who retired from the city manager position in 2005 after 25 years in the job, remembers taking noon-time strolls from City Hall down Broadway to the fairgrounds.
“It allowed me to see opportunities and problems that needed to be fixed,” he said.
Despite an extremely successful downtown redevelopment project in 2000 and 2001, downtown and the Westside have not regained the “center of business” title they once held.
Doing business on the Westside
Avila has been providing residents of the Westside fresh produce, meats, dairy and dry goods for 32 years. He began his career at the New Deal market on Lander Avenue, then moved to Cost Less on W. Main Street, when it took over the old Safeway store. Despite the addition of at least seven new grocery stores in town, Avila said Cost Less has maintained a large base of customers.
“We have a loyal clientele here,” he said, “a lot of walk-in customers and third and fourth generation families.”
Customer loyalty has also allowed Ingram’s Music, located at 673 W. Main St., to remain in business for over 20 years.
“We love the location and the fact that we’re the ‘little pink house,’ has been a huge calling card,” said current co-owner Charlene Perry, who took over the brightly painted music store from her parents three years ago.
Charlene Perry, along with her husband and co-owner, David Perry, said that being located in an older part of town has financial benefits.
“Being on the Westside allows us to be competitive,” she said. “If we were in a shopping center, we couldn’t do it.”
Cheaper retail space was one reason Beatrice Espadilla and Lucy Rios chose to open their wedding and formal dress shop, Beautiful Creations and Bridal, just two weeks ago at 123 4th St. Another reason they chose the Westside location was the potential for foot traffic and they saw a need was there for another dress shop.
“We saw only one or two stores in Turlock,” Espadilla said. “And there is a lot of traffic.”
In July 2009, Pilar Conde decided to move her event planning and party rental business from Golden State Boulevard, to a new shopping mall built on the corner of Soderquist and W. Main Street. She said she made the move for the larger parking lot, close proximity to the highway and increased opportunities for foot traffic, as the business is now located near Osborn Elementary School, Carniceria La Rancherita market and the 99 Cent Only store.
Conde said she looked at open spaces all over town when making the decision to move her business. “People said, ‘Why you come here to Westside, because of the gangs?’ And I said I didn’t see a problem.”
Not only has Conde not had any problems with gangs — or any sort of crime — since her move to the Westside, but her business is booming. In September and October 2009 alone, Conde planned 70 events. Her 2010 schedule looks just as full. She is already booked to capacity for February and March.
The Perrys said they have seen an improvement in the general atmosphere of the Westside over the past few years.
“I feel safer here than I did before (20 years ago),” Charlene Perry said.
“Overall, this area has made an improvement. It used to be a detriment to be here; it’s not now,” she said. “Looking at the rest of town, I would pick where we are.”
While many Westside businesses have not had to deal with crime, some have constant challenges. Avila said that Cost Less has to deal with graffiti and the homeless on a regular basis.
Being a neighbor to the Turlock Gospel Mission headquarters has created a situation where dozens of homeless families descend upon the store when they first open and try to use their restroom facilities for bathing.
“It was better when the B Street shelter was open. It kept the homeless from congregating around businesses,” Avila said.
Gangs are one problem that Avila said Cost Less does not have to contend with.
“Gangs are not a problem because they generally do not go where their parents shop,” he said.
A bright future
Looking ahead, Avila said he sees more and more people coming to the downtown and Westside areas due to the new Public Safety Facility, which is set to be built on the corner of Olive and Broadway, and the revitalization of the Carnegie Arts Center, also located on Broadway.
“There will be more lights, more traffic downtown,” Avila said. “The city needs to get downtown more lively.”
When asked to describe the Westside business community with one word Avila said, “Potential. There are a lot of people on the Westside who need a place to shop.”
To contact Kristina Hacker, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 634-9141 ext. 2004.