Despite the recession, several new retailers are headed for Fresno shopping centers.
Area malls are attracting a variety of businesses -- from a MAC cosmetics store to independently owned novelty shop Kwirkworld -- to fill spaces left empty in the worst business downturn in decades.
It's a sign that retailers still believe customers have money to spend, particularly because there are few nearby cities with large retailers to compete, said Jeff Green, a retail consultant in Mill Valley.
"Fresno has a great deal of pent-up retail potential," he said.
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But others are skeptical, including Fresno State marketing professor Bill Rice. He believes shoppers will continue to cut back spending on "frills." He also said westside water troubles have forced some Valley residents to cut spending.
"Fresno is quite different," he said. "We're still an agricultural-based community. ... The water thing is killing us."
Regardless, new stores are snapping up vacant locations.
Here's an update on some changes at local malls:
* At Fashion Fair in Fresno, Belair Jewelers will replace Crescent Jewelers. Three bankruptcies over the last three years by Crescent Jewelers and its various holding companies led to closure of that store and others across the country.
Las Vegas-based Belair combed the country for locations for expansion and chose Fresno.
The owners have been in the jewelry business for 40 years and own three stores in Las Vegas, including outlets in the Venetian and Planet Hollywood casinos. The Fresno store will open in this month.
* MAC Cosmetics is scheduled to open a store in the outdoor portion of Fashion Fair, two doors down from cosmetics retailer Sephora, said mall senior manager Mo Bagunu.
The stores will "absolutely" compete with one another, he said.
MAC Cosmetics already has a kiosk in the mall and a counter inside the Fashion Fair Macy's. It plans to open the store in mid-November in the former Eclipse Eyewear location.
There is enough business to sustain all the outlets, however, Green said. He helped the retailer develop models to determine the effect of a new store on sales at the other locations.
* At The Shops at River Park, Kwirkworld is scheduled to open today in a 4,200-square-foot space between Yoshino and the IMAX theater.
Owner Kirk Psenner describes his store as an "urban gift store that has a little bit of an edge to it."
It sells humorous greeting cards, bachelorette-themed items and novelties like bacon vs. tofu action figures.
Psenner, a Fresno native, opened his first Kwirkworld in San Luis Obispo. But "I was noticing my best customers came from the Central Valley," he said.
* Subway will open in mid-December in a portion of the space at River Park vacated by Fuzio Universal Bistro. A local franchisee plans to open with the restaurant's "Tuscany II" design, which includes couches and upholstered booths.
Rocky Mountain Chocolates will move into the remainder of the Fuzio space.
* Panera Bread will move into a space behind River Park's Ann Taylor Loft, facing Blackstone Avenue. The fast-growing national chain sells fresh bread, breakfast sandwiches and pastries. It has a location in Sierra Vista Mall.
* Ashley Furniture is planning to move into the former CompUSA space in River Park before the holidays, said River Park spokeswoman Tracy Kashian. In a time when furniture stores are closing, Ashley has survived because it is a low-priced retailer, Green said.
* At Fig Garden Village, men's clothing boutique Domblu Hollywood is scheduled to open Thursday in the space left by Starlette O'Hara. That store moved to River Park in March.
Domblu Hollywood owner Michael DeFrancesco, who grew up in Firebaugh, has returned to the Valley after years of working as an actor and singer in New York and Los Angeles.
Also in Fig Garden, women's clothing boutique Stella Laguna Beach already agreed to open in the center and Wassabi restaurant will open a second location in the former Pangea space. The Habit Burger Grill also will open in the coming months.
* A Kohl's store appears to be in the works for Sierra Vista Mall, Clovis officials have confirmed.
Company officials were in Clovis recently to speak with Clovis Building Department officials about renovating the Mervyn's store at Sierra Vista Mall.
They have not brought in plans but told city officials that they will. The renovation will not involve changing exterior walls, which means there will be no need for a lengthy approval process.
Kohls officials told the city they plan to start work in February for a fourth-quarter opening next year.
David Paynter, the developer building the Wal-Mart Supercenter project at Herndon Avenue at Highway 168, confirmed that Kohls no longer is in his development.
He said the litigation over the 491,000-square foot center has prevented him from being able to guarantee a date for the center's opening.
"My understanding is they are still going to locate in Clovis and we are very pleased about that," he said.
Kohl's did not return calls seeking comment.