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Macy's stores open Wednesday

The Tommy Hilfiger sweaters are neatly stacked and the Coach purses are on display. The new Macy's stores in Fresno's River Park and Visalia are almost ready for their Wednesday grand openings.

The stores are opening in former Gottschalks locations. Macy's arrival signals the beginning of a changed retail landscape in the Valley.

On Saturday, shoppers jammed the River Park store and its surrounding parking lots to take advantage of a special preopening charity shopping day. Most seemed pleased that Macy's now occupies the former Gottschalks store.

"I think it's good for the economy," said Lawrence Humrick of Fresno, who bought some kitchenware and business shirts.

Humrick said he has often shopped at the Macy's at Fresno Fashion Fair a few miles away, but only rarely patronized Gottschalks. The new Macy's location is more convenient for him and, he added, "I think it's a good fit here."

Shopper Kathi Woodward and her 15-year-old daughter Kylie emerged from the store lugging several bags of merchandise.

"I was a Gottschalks shopper for a very, very long time," Woodward said. But she said the new store is attractive for her because of it proximity to her north Fresno home.

"It doesn't have all the designer brands, and it doesn't have a bridal registry, so I'll still visit the Fashion Fair store," she said. "But it's nice to have it here."

Both the River Park and Visalia stores will be open today through Tuesday before the grand opening.

The store has some things Gottschalks didn't, including MAC and Benefit cosmetic counters. Macy's also now exclusively sells Tommy Hilfiger clothing.

The layout is generally the same as Gottschalks, with intimate apparel moved upstairs and the petite section downstairs.

And unlike Fashion Fair, where Macy's is split between a women's and home store and a separate men's and children's store in a different location, the River Park store is a full department store under one roof.

The River Park store is less than five miles away from the Fashion Fair Macy's, but there's enough money in town to support both, said Jeff Green, a retail consultant in Mill Valley. The retailer also has a furniture store on East Shaw Avenue.

National retailers are often surprised at how well they do in Fresno, he said. The lack of large cities with retailers nearby means there's not much competition for Fresno stores, he said.

"There's pent-up demand," Green said. "It's a captive market."

River Park Macy's store manager Deena Cota agreed.

"With the outlying communities, there's enough room to have two Macy's," she said.

It's a similar story in Visalia, where Macy's is opening in Visalia Mall. At 150,000 square feet, the Visalia store is about 46,000 square feet bigger than the River Park store. It was also one of Gottschalks' best-performing locations.

Macy's locating two stores in Fresno is another step in the evolving retail scene in Fresno, which has attracted new big-name retailers in recent years, said said Al Smith, president and chief executive officer for the Greater Fresno Area Chamber of Commerce.

Drawing customers won't be difficult, Smith said.

"There's a whole disenfranchised retail group right now -- Gottschalks shoppers -- that are looking for a home," he said.

While many of them will flock to Macy's, lower-priced Kohl's captured a surprisingly large percentage of former Gottschalks customers who traded down during the recession, Green said.

The River Park Macy's hired 216 people and the Visalia Macy's hired 230, including seasonal employees. Cota is the former manager of the River Park Gottschalks. The store hired some other former Gottschalks workers, but Cota did not have an exact number.

The opening of the new Macy's is exciting, but it comes with a bit of sadness at the loss of Gottschalks, said Smith. "Those who have been raised around that brand name for years will always have a fondness for it," he said. "The next generation won't even know who Gottschalks is at some point."

Both stores will start their grand openings at 9:45 a.m. Wednesday with ribbon cuttings and other activities, including giving away free gift cards at the Fresno store.