Fresnans like to dream big, at least when it comes to where to eat and shop.
When we asked readers to tell us what stores and restaurants you’d like to see open in the Fresno area, hundreds of you responded. You suggested 216 different businesses.
Some we’d never heard of. Some are familiar names like Ikea and Black Bear Diner. The people who suggested a hofbrau reopen in town left us reminiscing about the restaurants we lost. And some places you mentioned are already on their way.
We don’t have a crystal ball so we can’t say anything for sure.
But we have the next best thing – real estate brokers whose jobs are to find commercial spaces for restaurants and retailers looking to open here, and to help landlords find renters. They know a lot about what stores and restaurants require before expanding into a city, and they let us pick their brains.
We also asked companies if they had plans to locate here. Add what companies have said publicly about big-picture expansion plans and you can start to get a picture of who might come here and who might not.
Now for a reality check. Although it would be awesome if Nordstrom built a brand-new store on the newly opened Fulton Street downtown, that’s not going to happen.
Companies don’t take risks. If they’re going to spend millions opening a store and hiring dozens of employees, they need to know it will pay off. They have very specific requirements for population and income of shoppers and if Fresno doesn’t meet them, they won’t come.
Keep in mind also that the retail scene is tough these days. Big retailers are closing right and left. Restaurants, too. Just last year, at least 40 closed in the Fresno area.
And though Fresno is growing, remember that companies also are eying other cities. We’re competing with communities in the Bay Area and Southern California that have more people and bigger paychecks.
Another challenge? Some companies are willing to come here, but only if they can be in a high-profile, high-traffic spot like River Park. There aren’t many open spaces like that left in town. (The former World Sports Cafe spot is spoken for by two restaurants, though the center is keeping quiet about what they are. The former Chevy’s restaurant is being taken over by meat lover’s paradise Texas de Brazil. And the former Elephant Bar will be home to Lazy Dog restaurant later this year.)
A tip: If you really want a company to open here, get on their websites and email them. It matters.
Here’s a look at some of the requested stores and the chances they’ll come here.
Ikea – Possibly, eventually.
The furniture giant was the most requested store in our informal poll. Ikea hasn’t announced any plans to open in Fresno (and won’t until it’s a sure thing). But there are reasons to believe IKEA will come here eventually, said Steve Rontell, a retail broker with Colliers International’s Fresno office.
“I would say Fresno has a shot at Ikea in the next five years,” he said. “This is my personal opinion only. I have not talked to Ikea.”
Having the Ikea distribution center so close, at the base of the Grapevine, would make it easy to supply a store here, he noted.
An Ikea representative said the company likes to have a customer base of 2 million people before opening a store. Fresno County has just under 1 million, but when you throw in Madera, Tulare and Kings counties, the region has 1.76 million people. Would it be enough? Only time will tell.
Black Bear Diner – Extremely likely.
This restaurant was one of the top five requested places by readers. Although there are Black Bear Diners seemingly all up and down Highway 99, there isn’t one in Fresno or Clovis. But expect one in Fresno soon. Things are happening behind the scenes.
Some of you are probably thinking you’ve heard that before. It’s true Clovis was supposed to get a Black Bear Diner on Shaw Avenue near Hilton Garden Inn, not far from Highway 168. But costs escalated and the franchisees changed their minds.
Amy Rose, who owns the Valley Black Bear Diners with her father, Bob Rose, is adamant that sooner or later, we’ll get one.
“There will be a Black Bear Diner” in Fresno, she said.
Dog House Grill – Probably not, but never say never.
Fresnans would love a second location of this favorite barbecue spot, especially one with a bigger parking lot.
But the family behind the restaurant has its hands full, said Dog House Grill’s general manager, Matt Billingsley, whose uncle is the owner. The family also runs Main Street Grill in Cambria and Firestone Grills in San Luis Obispo and Bakersfield.
They’re picky about their requirements for opening a restaurant, he said. They like to own the land. They like to be near a busy university. They like to have a family member devoted to each restaurant, but they’re out of family members.
Billingsley doesn’t like to use the word never, but it’s not likely.
Golden Corral – Highly likely.
This buffet restaurant is looking for a space here, said Rontell, its agent. Clovis had a Golden Corral restaurant years ago and it’s likely the restaurant will come back to the Fresno area, he said. The Golden Corral restaurants in Bakersfield, Modesto and the Sacramento area are “extremely successful,” he said.
Plus, the restaurant chain has been advertising in the Fresno area, meaning customers here know what it is and are likely to welcome it.
Aldi supermarkets – Highly likely.
Aldi is a German discount grocery store gaining a reputation for its wine, including its international-award-winning $8 rosé. The chain is in the middle of massive expansion, with plans to open 900 more stores by the end of 2020.
There are dozens of Aldis in Southern California and the chain is “exploring opportunities in California’s Central Valley,” the company said in a statement. A Bakersfield store opened last year and the company recently signed leases for stores in Porterville and Hanford.
The store would be a good fit for Fresno, perhaps somewhere on West Shaw Avenue, said Mike Mele, a retail broker with Commercial West Associates who specializes in supermarkets. The company says it looks for spaces that are about 17,000 square feet (a little bigger than a Fresh & Easy store), have 85 parking spaces of their own, and see at least 20,000 cars go by daily.
“Evidently they’ve got some deals in the works right now in Fresno. I can’t specify the exact location,” he said, adding that he doesn’t represent the grocer.
Trader Joe’s – Maybe.
Opinions vary on this one. Fresnans would love to see another Trader Joe’s, judging from the passion they unleashed on the retailer when it moved its Fresno store north to Friant Road and Fresno Street.
A company spokeswoman said another Trader Joe’s in Fresno is not a part of its 2018 plans, but also said she couldn’t rule out another store in the future.
Trader Joe’s already has two stores in our area — the new one, and the store on the western edge of Clovis at Willow and Nees avenues. Would the company really open a third?
Not likely, says retail broker Mark Saito.
“Since there’s two of them … they’ve got the market covered,” he said.
On the other hand, there is clearly demand for Trader Joe’s. West Shaw Avenue, with a huge population and lots of traffic, would be ideal for such a store, Mele said. And it’s far enough away that it wouldn’t pull business from the other Trader Joe’s stores, he said.
What will probably happen, said Rontell, is that after the north Fresno store has been open a year, the company will look at how it’s doing. They’ll look at how many customers they lost by moving and how many they gained, and then make a decision.
“My opinion? Before you’d see a third store in Fresno , you’d see a store in Visalia first,” Rontell said.
Visalia has been begging for a Trader Joe’s store for years, with more than 4,500 people following the “Bring Trader Joe’s to Visalia“ Facebook page.
Sprouts – Maybe.
Sprouts is in a similar situation to Trader Joe’s. It’s got a Fresno store near Blackstone and Alluvial avenues and a Clovis store near Herndon and Clovis avenues. Would it really open another?
It has opened multiple stores in one market before, notes a company spokeswoman. San Jose has three stores and Sacramento will get a third Sprouts this summer – but those cities have a lot more people than Fresno. It all depends upon the interest in healthy eating in the city, parking, roadways and available workers, she said.
Again, West Shaw Avenue could easily support a grocery store like Sprouts, Mele said.
Cracker Barrel – Maybe.
Fresnans would love to see this restaurant and country store open in Fresno. It has 650 locations in 45 states, many in the Southeast and Midwest.
Cracker Barrel actually signed a lease last year to open a location in Fresno’s Marketplace at El Paseo, near Highway 99 and Herndon Avenue, The Bee confirmed. But somehow, it pulled out of it and it’s not clear why.
So what about Fresno?
Fresno loves down-home restaurants like this and locals often make Cracker Barrel a stop when they’re traveling out of town. That would make it seem Cracker Barrel would be a good fit here.
Cracker Barrel has no news to share about a Fresno location, said a company spokeswoman. But she did say the company is expanding into western states, with plans to open four stores over the next two years. The company has not said where and typically doesn’t until ground is broken on a restaurant.
Several retail brokers said they just didn’t know enough about the chain to comment.
Nordstrom – Probably not.
While Fresno has grown a lot over the years when it comes to population, income and the quality of clothing it buys, it probably still won’t attract the high-end department store, Rontell said. The retailer can simply reach customers here online instead.
Besides, Nordstrom is focusing on opening discount Nordstrom Rack stores and Fresno already has one. Nordstrom has 122 regular department stores in U.S. and Canada and 232 Nordstrom Rack locations. The company has suggested it may open as many as 300 Rack stores by 2020.
The top 10 stores or restaurants requested by readers
2. Trader Joe’s
3. Cracker Barrel
4. Golden Corral
5. Container Store
6. Black Bear Diner
7. Crate & Barrel
8. Dog House Grill (second location)
10. Joe’s Crab Shack