A massive arts and crafts store could move into the vacant Gottschalks building by October, according to Merced City officials.
Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby has turned in applications for building and sign permits to occupy the Olive Avenue store, according to Merced City Manager John Bramble. City staff believes the store could be opened by early October to be ready for the holiday season.
Mayor Bill Spriggs said it's a clear sign that the local economy is starting to turn around.
"All of the vacancies at the mall are filled, all the vacancies at the Rancho San Miguel shopping center are filling up, and we're starting to see a little uptick in sales tax," Spriggs said.
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Hobby Lobby sells 65,000 products in 13 departments, including picture frames, jewelry making, fashion fabrics, floral, home accents and holiday supplies. Most Hobby Lobby stores are about 50,000 square feet.
"It will add to the whole shopping center in terms of foot traffic and sales," Bramble said. "Gottschalks used to bring in sales for the other stores, and Hobby Lobby will do about the same."
Gottschalks closed its Merced store in 2009 when its parent company filed for bankruptcy.
Hobby Lobby opened in Oklahoma City in 1972 and operates in 479 stores in 40 states.
The closest Hobby Lobby to Merced is in Visalia. The corporation hopes to open 40 stores in the United States this year.
The corporation is in talks with Modesto to occupy a vacant Mervyn's store and could hire 30 to 50 employees there. Bramble said he wasn't sure how many jobs would result from the Merced store's opening.
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