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Despite some loss, heart of downtown continues to beat
Vacancy rate still low in face of pandemic
Turlock downtown 1
The empty space left from Dust Bowl Brewing leaving downtown will soon be home to another beer-friendly gathering place as the owners of Modesto gastropub Commonwealth have signed a lease to operate out of the location (KRISTINA HACKER/The Journal).

Since the coronavirus pandemic brought the world to a standstill in March, there has been plenty of movement in Turlock’s downtown core — from some longtime tenants who have closed down for good to out-of-town businesses making plans to open up shop. 

Despite recent economic setbacks both locally and nationwide, downtown Turlock has fared well since the pandemic began compared to past recessions. According to Assistant to the City Manager for Housing and Economic Development Maryn Pitt, the downtown vacancy rate was about 35 percent following the Great Recession. In the years that followed, a colorful revitalization took place complete with new boutiques, restaurants and coffee shops.

By 2016, the vacancy rate in downtown Turlock was close to zero with plenty of new development. The Enterprise Building renovation was just getting started — which is now complete — and the Udder Place had just completed its brand-new expansion. 

While some businesses have closed due to the pandemic and rising rents, Pitt stated that the progress made in the downtown core hasn’t been lost due to the shutdown. The vacancy rate is currently at about seven to 10 percent, she said, and the City has taken measures to ensure businesses stand a chance at making it through the difficult climate. 

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As longtime downtown Turlock businesses have closed, others are moving in. Little Red Door, which specializes in upcycled thrift store finds, is in the process of moving into part of the Geiger’s old location (KRISTINA HACKER/The Journal).

“I think the downtown will remain vibrant, and we have tried through our temporary outdoor dining permit to assist the restaurants be open and remain in business,” Pitt said. 

The weekly Downtown Turlock Street Vibe, which sees West Main Street closed between 1st Street and Broadway from Thursday to Sunday, has provided restaurants on that particular block to seat plenty of people outdoors. Throughout all of downtown, the City’s permits have allowed restaurants to get creative with their outdoor seating, utilizing sidewalks and creating ambience with lights and planter boxes. 

Stanislaus County on Tuesday moved into the red tier on the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, meaning restaurants can now serve some customers indoors. They do have to be spaced out however — something that contributed to Dust Bowl Brewing Co. making the decision over the summer to permanently close their downtown taproom, which is a much smaller space than their brewery across town. 

Soon, however, the empty space will be home to another beer-friendly gathering place: the owners of Commonwealth, a Modesto gastropub that specializes in craft beer, wine and “enlightened pub grub” have signed a lease to operate out of the former Dust Bowl location.

According to CoSol realtor Patrick Zado, Commonwealth is currently working with architects to figure out a seating plan that can be safe and profitable during the pandemic. Despite the small space, Zado said the location wasn’t on the market long. 

“Downtown Turlock is desirable and former restaurant spaces are even more desirable,” he said. “Pandemic and all, it did go pretty quickly.”

Across the street, other restaurants have inquired about the Hauck’s Grill location, as the space is now permanently closed. Another Modesto-based restaurant, Rancho Fresco Mexican Grill, is also in the process of moving into the Enterprise Building’s corner space just down the block.

Some longtime downtown Turlock favorites, like Geiger’s Fine Jewelers and Cindy’s Doodads, have closed, but new businesses moving into other spots in the core have kept the vibrant shopping destination from feeling empty. Little Red Door, which specializes in upcycled thrift store finds, moved into part of Geiger’s old location, while a second Reliable Property Management location will operate out of the space’s other side. 

Down Center Street, Nathan Dabulewicz Insurance Agency, LLC opened a new office on the corner. Across the street, Savor Charcuterie owner Amy Navarra is opening her first brick-and-mortar location and will offer grazing plates, workshops and more from the new space, which is set to open in the coming months. 

Warrior Yoga owner Lorie Wilson expanded her studio outward from a small room into the much larger location next door — the former Silk Garden spot is now home to a revamped and remodeled space that is now welcoming yogis of all skill levels. According to Wilson, she signed the lease for her new, bigger home just a few days before shutdowns caused by the pandemic began.

She moved forward with her plans and began construction at the end of May and opened the new studio in June. It’s remained empty for the most part, until now, with Wilson and other yoga instructors leading yoga sessions at the park and via zoom.

Opening a new business or expanding a current one is normally a daunting task and was only amplified during the uncertainty of a pandemic. 

“For me personally, I just kept thinking that now, more than ever, people are going to need yoga. That’s what kept me driven,” Wilson said. “It was perfect that we were doing an expansion because I knew that eventually we would have to be spread out and running a business at a lesser capacity in a small space would have been really challenging.”

Though some businesses have been hit harder by the pandemic than others, Wilson said the different industries continue to support each other.

“On a positive note, it says that our community is resilient and optimistic and driven and committed to keeping this place thriving,” Wilson said. “I really hope we turn this ship around in a powerful way and that this is a whole new beginning and new opportunity to grow and learn from this time.”