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The Great Recession helped downtown
Local ownership brings 'rebirth'
Dust Bowl pic1
Since the Recession, downtown Turlock has seen a resurgence in locally-owned business ventures - like popular night spot Dust Bowl Brewing Company Tap Room. - photo by Journal file photo

Downtown businesses are flourishing. 

Restaurants are full. Boutiques are drawing customers from throughout the area. 

But it literally took a perfect storm of circumstances – including the crumbling of the real estate market – for the modern day resurgence to take place. 

Yes, the crumbling real estate market. 

According to Dana McGarry, the administrator of the Turlock Downtown Property Owners Association, a surge of local property owners with a legitimate stake in the community didn’t come until a host of downtown buildings that were financed by out-of-town owners fell into foreclosure and came back onto the market – giving those with a vision the opportunity to take the plunge.

“It was really a chance for independent owners to move forward and it really helped in occupying storefronts and buildings that weren’t occupied before. It was the perfect set of circumstances that made it all possible,” McGarry said. “All of a sudden there were up-and-coming restaurants and businesses coming in and people that were willing to improve their buildings, and the City of Turlock offered a $1,000 grant for those who qualified, and if you’re a small business that’s a really big advantage.

“At one point more than half of the buildings were owned by people outside of Stanislaus County, and now that number is down to less than 10 percent. When you have local ownership, people are truly invested – they’re part of the community and they really put their heart and soul into it. That’s what we see here.”

What does it take?

They call it an “overhaul.”

Upgraded building facades. Improved foot traffic paths. Better parking.

But in cities like Turlock – that have jumpstarted a foundering downtown district with shops, restaurants and stores that draw people in – it’s more like a rebirth.

The décor might be the same and the charm might still be there, but the reinvented and recycled idea of bringing people to a centralized location rather than out to strip malls on the outskirts of town is a relatively new concept.

Can small mom-and-pop stores compete with the big box retailers when it comes to price? No. But then again you can’t walk into a chain restaurant and order up a craft beer brewed on-site, or find farm fresh produce at a farmers market that’s set up on a massive patch of asphalt.

It’s “Back to the Future” for Downtown Turlock, and that’s a good thing

“You used to want to go down to Modesto, but we’ve got places here now that are just as good – restaurants and bars and night life that didn’t exist before,” said resident Jennie Allen. “I think that there’s a sense of pride when you walk down the street and see businesses that are packed and people that are coming down at night to enjoy themselves. It took a long time, but we finally have something to be proud of.”

And Turlock is flourishing despite having some obvious disadvantages. 

 California’s freeway system is different.

On the western side of the Central Valley you have Interstate 5 which, in populated areas, has become almost a Main Street-like thoroughfare right through the heart of town. Freeways bring traffic. And traffic equals business.

But Highway 99 and cities like Turlock are different. In both cases the freeway just skirts the outside of the city limits and provides travelers with all of the corporate shopping options that they’re used to finding in their own backyard.

The true heart of the city, however, rests further inland.

What most people would consider a standard Highway 99 interchange quickly becomes a blend of the old town styling that at one time, when transportation wasn’t quite as plentiful as it is today, served as the only route through the community. The Central Valley as a whole has had numerous discussions on how to best move people and cars, but getting people to venture off the beaten path hasn’t been easy. 

Unless you have something to offer.

“It all depends on what you’re looking for,” said longtime resident Derek Lattris. “If it’s the mall, we obviously don’t have that. But there’s so much more. And it’s obvious that people have started to figure that out.”