Clovis News

Retail transition gives old stores new life

The landscape is littered with the real-estate remains of Gottschalks, Mervyn's and other retailers, but don't assume other department stores will fill those empty storefronts.

The next occupant could be a church, a call center or even a government agency.

After all, those buildings have attributes that nonretailers also like: Good visibility, ample parking and easy access. Folks at Celebration Church know this, which is why the congregation has leased the 105,700-square-foot former Levitz building on West Shaw Avenue.

Celebration has done this sort of thing before. In 2005, it moved into a former Bally's gym on Shaw Avenue in Clovis. This time, it is claiming the property that Levitz exited in 2008.

The furniture store had moved into the landmark location on 8.3 acres near Highway 99 in 1973. It was reportedly one of the best performers in the Levitz chain, but fell victim to a corporate decision to shutter all of its 76 stores across the country.

"Retail is in transition now," said Steve Rontell, a retail specialist and principal at Colliers Tingey International commercial realty firm in Fresno, who worked on the recent Celebration Church deal. "There are not that many retailers coming in to take the space, and landlords have to be receptive to new uses."

This is nothing new. Fresno County officials occupied the old Sunnyside Bowl building in southeast Fresno; John's Incredible Pizza took a former grocery store site on Herndon Avenue; and the former Breuners warehouse near California State University, Fresno, now houses indoor soccer.

Then there is Manchester Center at Shields and Blackstone avenues. Once Fresno's premier shopping center, Manchester has been converting to office space as retail outlets moved north.

The state Department of Motor Vehicles was reportedly interested in putting a call center in the former Longs Drugs at Manchester, but state officials had little to say about it.

Spokeswoman Jan Mendoza confirmed DMV's interest in combining call centers in Oakland and other communities into a larger site in Fresno, but she said the effort is in preliminary stages.

The DMV in June combined call centers in San Diego, Van Nuys, North Hollywood and Santa Ana into a building in Riverside, steering 238 new workers to that site. That, however, was a building built specifically for the state agency.

Whether DMV opens a call center in a new or remodeled building in Fresno remains to be seen, but it has no shortage of possible sites between Gottschalks, Mervyn's, the former Camp America and Kmart store -- at 220,000 square feet, the largest single retail vacancy for sale or lease in Fresno -- and all the other victims of this recession.

Home prices inch up

The law of supply and demand is at work in the residential housing market in Fresno and Clovis.

The number of homes for sale fell 47% from August 2008 to August 2009, while the number sold increased 10% during the same period. The result has been a leveling off and slight uptick in the median price, according to figures released by the Fresno Association of Realtors.

The median price fell from $195,000 in August 2008 to under $130,000 in February before climbing in August 2009 to $160,000. That's a decrease of 18% year over year, but a jump of 23% since the low point.

The median price has been stable or climbing since April as more people took advantage of low interest rates and low prices to bid up values of bank-owned properties.

"There was a lack of inventory," said Jared Martin, association president.

He said that demand is so strong that real estate agents in the central San Joaquin Valley want banks to release more properties for sale.

They may get their wish if banks are piling up foreclosures as much as some experts say.

My bad

A 2,465-square-foot office condominium at 1645 Shaw Ave. in Clovis hits the auction block at 6 p.m Oct. 8, not on an earlier date as recently reported in this space.

The developers are auctioning it off because they couldn't sell it off in a traditional manner, said auction manager Jim Olivas of Grubb&Ellis/Pearson Commercial.