Simply Blinged and Ritzy Ragz and Thingz, two boutiques a stone’s throw away from each other, will be closing their doors on Main Street in downtown Turlock today. Next month neighboring store Sky High Comics will follow suit.
While it’s curious that several shops are closing in what most would call a post-recession economy that has brought new storefront to downtown like Café La Mo and the Art Space on Main, ultimately there is no singular explanation.
“It’s about one-stop shopping now,” is Rosa Lopes' theory, the owner of Simply Blinged.
Just a few years ago Lopes would drive through downtown to her shop in the Mercantile Building above Dust Bowl Brewing Company and notice that many stores would last only a year or two. Little did she know she too would fall victim to the plight of a downtown business owner unable to keep her doors open.
Eager to have a storefront location after three years on the second floor of the Mercantile Building, Lopes settled at her Main Street location in 2013, a decision that meant higher overhead costs but double the inventory to sell. Initially business was good, recalled Lopes, who credits Dust Bowl’s positive influence on the downtown as a major contributor to the area. However, business steadily declined and without the consistent boost in foot traffic that community events like the Festival of Lights provided for her business, it was not fiscally feasible for Lopes to renew her lease with its increased rent price.
“It makes me sad, but my first question is why? It must be expensive,” mused Los Banos resident Sue Carlin as she browsed in Simply Blinged during its final days. “Downtowns are just like this and I think it’s the big box stores that put them out of business.”
Carlin was right to some extent as the raise in rent asked of Lopes was too high for her to pay.
“I love the downtown. I so wanted it to work,” said Lopes of the closure of her store. “I put my heart and soul into it. It’s very disappointing.”
While an increase in rent is often due to lower vacancy rates, according to local PMZ Realtor and owner of the soon-to-open downtown bar The Udder Place Jerry Powell, the relationship between a landlord and tenant can play a significant role. Rather than the closures being indicative of a true shift in the market, there can be “a disconnect between the land lord and the tenant as far as what they want to pay.”
With the southern expansion of Monte Vista Crossings that offers a host of new stores, Lopes also credits the growth of big box stores as one factor that contributed to the demise of her store, something Turlock Downtown Property Owners Association Board President John Jaureguy said is a difficulty that all small business owners face.
“Small business is constantly in flux and being an independent retailer is a difficult ball game,” said Jaureguy, a downtown business owner of 26 years.
Contrary to Simply Blinged’s situation, the owners of Ritzy Ragz and Thingz are closing their doors in downtown Turlock in order to focus on their Modesto and Carmel locations, despite the fact that the 3,000 square foot space in Turlock is doing well financially.
“We loved our clients and the downtown, especially this building. But, it’s a large space and with all we have going on it’s a lot to maintain,” said co-owner Jennifer Horn.
Ritzy Ragz formerly had two separate locations in the Mercantile Building, one for children and another for women. With a growing clientele and a desire to consolidate the shops, Horn and co-owner Sharon Stencil opened their downtown Turlock storefront location amidst the recession in 2009. Six years later and with business still on the uptick, the duo have chosen to close shop to afford themselves more energy with their other locations.
“I can’t be Superwoman anymore,” said Horn.
Turns out neither can Sky High Comics owner Raymond Hannagan, whose dream shop will be closing by the end of February.
“It was costing more money than I was making,” said Hannagan, who invested his own personal finances to make the shop a reality, something with which he was hoping to operate in retirement. “You can’t keep putting money into something and not get anything out of it.”
With another year on his lease, Hannagan hopes to sell the lease otherwise he will continue to pay rent for Sky High Comics which opened less than a year ago in April 2014. While the steady foot traffic from local restaurants nearby helped to generate more business, ultimately it wasn't enough.
“People have to eat so the restaurants will be fine,” said Hannagan of the overall health of the downtown businesses. “People don’t have to read comic books.”
Hannagan hosted events and comic book artists to draw in customers which, when combined with community events like the Christmas Parade, were excellent for business he said. Lopes echoed the same sentiment but felt overall the Turlock Downtown Property Owners Association ought to do more to promote the downtown businesses.
“The thing about downtown is that they want us here, but they don’t support us,” said Lopes .
Lamenting a lack of cohesion amongst the Association and the businesses it represents, Lopes said that more advertising for community events and mixers would do wonders for the stores.
Horn also said that it would be beneficial if local shoppers made a more conscious effort to support local business.
“We’ve seen more people in the store in the last week than we have seen in a while,” said Horn. “People tend to support when stores are closing instead of shopping what is open.”
During Ritzy Ragz’ tenure downtown, Horn served on the Turlock Downtown Property Owners Association. Noting that the Association could do more to market the downtown, Horn felt that businesses need to be proactive as well.
“I think more marketing could be done to market the downtown, but the businesses also need to get involved. The Association needs more input from the business owners,” said Horn.
The Turlock Downtown Property Owners Association represents the property owners, and by extension their tenants which includes clothing boutiques, banks, insurance agencies, and more. With a diverse range of shops in the Association, Jaureguy said it is important for businesses to promote their unique offerings in order to drive traffic through their doors.
In other words, the Main Street relationship between the Association and its shops is a two way street — both literally and metaphorically.
In an effort to fulfill their end of the bargain, Jaureguy said the Association aims to attract shoppers to Turlock’s downtown by advertising in publications in other areas including the Contra Costa and San Joaquin counties as well as in local hotels. With plans to partner with other local forces like CSUS and the Carnegie Arts Center, it’s clear that achieving synergy amongst the Association, property owners, shop owners, and community members is a group effort.
As far as the recent closures are concerned, “It’s unfortunate but a normal course of business. Retail is a difficult business and some shops don’t make it,” said Jaurgeuy. “We’re sad to see them go.”