Two more locally owned stores are leaving Fig Garden Village, the latest of several recent changes at the shopping center.
Neither are closing: Viva La Vault is moving to Old Town Clovis and Top Drawer will return to the locally owned Opus I shopping center, where it will share space with another business.
More changes are in the works.
All the changes have some Fig Garden Village shoppers expressing annoyance – both in casual conversation and on The Bee’s Facebook page – that local mom-and-pop stores are closing or leaving, and that national retailers are being brought in instead.
I don’t feel at all like I’m being forced out.
Craig Pokorny, Aporjon Leather & Luggage
News of the stores moving comes shortly after the shocker that Uncle Harry’s New York Bagelry & Coffee House was closing its Fig Garden Village location after 18 years. The bagel shop closed last month, a sign on the door saying the landlord “was not interested in renewing our lease and preferred/desired a ‘national’ tenant instead.”
Paper Source will open later this year, possibly in the former Uncle Harry’s spot.
Aporjon Leather & Luggage will eventually move to between Heart & Sole and Wayside Noodles, but there’s no date set yet.
We just couldn’t come to an agreement on our rent.
Ashley Moreno, Viva La Vault
New York-based Rouse Properties bought Fig Garden Village in 2015 for $106.1 million. The center is one of 34 malls and shopping centers it owns nationwide. An upside to big companies like Rouse is that they can bring in sought-after national stores because they already have relationships with them in their other malls.
Local Fig Garden Village management did not return a call seeking comment. A representative for Rouse declined to comment for this story, but emailed the same statement the company released when Uncle Harry’s closed.
It says: “As the owner of Fresno’s premier lifestyle center, we strongly value supporting the local business owners of this community. In fact, as our current merchandising mix reflects, we take great pride in offering a retail lineup that features a healthy blend of both national brands and those that are owned and operated by business men and women from the area. We are very proud of the continued success the many local boutiques, shops and restaurants at our center have experienced since we assumed ownership, and we look forward to each of them remaining an important part of Fig Garden Village’s future.”
Indeed, there are still at least 20 locally owned shops and restaurants in the center.
But the owners of Viva La Vault and Top Drawer expressed frustration at their negotiations with Rouse. Both had expired leases and were talking to the company about renewing them.
Viva La Vault (not be confused with The Vault Fine Jewelers next door, which is staying where it is) will be in Fig Garden until Saturday.
Viva La Vault’s lease was up at the end of last year. Owner Ashley Moreno, who has owned the store for about five years, says she couldn’t come to an agreement with the landlord.
The center wanted to raise her rent, she said. Her previous lease had yearly rent increases, so that’s not unusual, but the amount they were asking was too much, Moreno says.
“They are not very willing to negotiate,” she says. “If you want to pay the prices that they have set, then you’re good, but there’s very little wiggle room.”
When asked about shoppers who say it feels like the center is getting rid of small businesses, Moreno said, “It certainly seems that way.”
Still, she’ll miss Fig Garden.
“There’s a lot of wonderful things about Fig Garden,” she says. “I want to make sure people know that.”
After some downtime, Viva La Vault will reopen in a bigger space in Old Town Clovis, possibly in July. It’s taking the space that the store Revival 23 will leave behind, in the breezeway of the Dewitt building next to House of Juju. Revival 23 is moving in July into a space at 416 Pollasky Ave., just south of Fourth Street, that’s three times its current location.
Viva La Vault’s new store will be bigger too. They’ll continue selling jewelry, but will add clothing and gift items.
Top Drawer owner Jane Saunders was surprised to hear she’d have a competitor when Fig Garden Village announced that Paper Source would open a store there. Top Drawer’s little shop, tucked next to La Boulangerie, sells handbags and stationery, like cards, invitations, etc. The Bee reported in 2013 that Top Drawer bumped up its stationery to a third of its store when Not Just Paper closed.
When Saunders questioned the decision to bring in Paper Source when her store already sells similar products, she said the company told her, “‘Well, we didn’t know you were in the paper business,’ ” she says. “I was concerned by that.”
Saunders says she had the choice to stay in Fig Garden, but she couldn’t live with the terms of the lease.
It is a big company. I don’t feel that they really understand the Fresno market very well.
Jane Saunders, Top Drawer
Instead, the store will move back to Opus I shopping center at the northwest corner of Palm and Bullard avenues where it was once located. It will share space with The Stringer, a tennis-supply store. The racquet-stringing service will continue, but Top Drawer products will take over much of the store, carrying some tennis-related products like tennis bags.
The center is locally owned, which matters to Saunders.
“It just came about because it was the right time. Things are changing at Fig Garden,” she says. “We’re really into supporting small business. That’s not really where Fig Garden is going, or seems to be going.”
The store’s last day in Fig Garden is May 31, with plans to reopen in the new space later that week. Nothing is changing at Top Drawer’s second location in River Park.
Not every Fig Garden business owner shares the sentiments of the departing store owners. Craig Pokorny of Aporjon has seen lots of changes in the center since he opened in 1972.
“There have been a lot of national chains coming in over the decades. It seems like a lot of people like having those chains come in and smaller places do come and go,” he notes.
“I don’t feel at all like I’m being forced out,” he says.