MERCED — Merced's business community recently experienced several closures, but the city continues to see investment in its steadily evolving entertainment district.
In the latest sign of a downtown revival, a new American-style eatery has announced its Friday grand opening. Five Ten Bistro and the After 5 bar and lounge is at 510 W. Main St., formerly occupied by Fernando's Bistro.
The new restaurant and bar will cater to the area's business class and working professionals, said co-owner Robert Matsuo. "It's chef-style, quality food without the chef-style prices," he said.
Meanwhile, several businesses on the north side of town have gone under recently.
On the corner of G Street and Olive Avenue, Wimpy's Breakfast & Burgers closed after several years of operation. And a Yosemite Avenue hamburger joint, Mooyah, closed after opening in the fall of 2011.
Blockbuster Video on R Street and Olive Avenue announced it is also leaving Merced.
"If businesses are going to shut down, we see more shut down at the end of the year for tax purposes," said Frank Quintero, Merced's economic development director. "But we are seeing a resurgence in the downtown area."
Another entrepreneur, area resident Steve Miller, recently applied with the city to open a bar and restaurant at 640 W. Main St., where Reinero's Restaurant used to be. "I've always wanted to get into the business so I thought I'd give it a try," said the 65-year-old retired farmer.
Although Miller has never owned a restaurant, he's optimistic about the future of Merced. "Hopefully, looking ahead, maybe there's a little opportunity here. There are things in the works in the state of California that might be coming this direction."
Among new restaurant options, downtown is still waiting for the Hookah Lounge to open its doors at 435 W. Main St. Meanwhile, beer connoisseurs continue to anticipate the opening of the 17 Street Public House just down the street.
A newly minted restaurateur, Matsuo said he and his business partners have worked in the hospitality industry, but none have owned a restaurant. He said they're nervous and excited about investing locally.
"Everyone said, 'Why Merced?' " Matsuo said. "We want to give back to our community. We live in this community. We want to keep our money in town."
While Main Street is experiencing significant changes, Merced's entertainment district will take years to fully mature, Quintero said.
However, the city is working on several projects that could give downtown an immediate boost, he added.
Most notably, the city has been collaborating with local property owner Tim Razzari to fill his 30,000-square-foot Shaffer Building on the corner of M and Main streets.
Getting people in that building would be a "big benefit" for downtown, Quintero said.
"What we're doing is having a feasibility study conducted to see what would be the best uses. It could be a combination of retail, business and living."
Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or firstname.lastname@example.org.