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WinCo was set to come to Merced. Then residents badmouthed the town

Merced Mayor Mike Murphy speaks to a crowd of public officials, city and county employees, community members and area high school students during the 2018 State of the City address at the Merced Theatre in Merced, Calif., on Friday, Feb. 9, 2018.
Merced Mayor Mike Murphy speaks to a crowd of public officials, city and county employees, community members and area high school students during the 2018 State of the City address at the Merced Theatre in Merced, Calif., on Friday, Feb. 9, 2018. akuhn@mercedsun-star.com

In a sweeping speech about the health of Merced economy, the mayor urged people to buy local and to rethink how they talk about the city, saying negative talk from residents on the street killed a deal with a major grocery chain.

Mayor Mike Murphy on Friday gave his second State of the City address in which he touted new businesses in town and announced new projects. He also said the city was recently working on a deal with WinCo Foods but the deal folded, Murphy told the crowd, after locals badmouthed their own city to WinCo representatives who were conducting market research.

WinCo's detailed research projected a store in Merced would do "very well," Murphy said.

"Each Mercedian stated it was a horrible place to do business. They would caution any business that would come here," he said. "This was a red flag to them so they pulled the plug."

"Words matter," he said. "And the way that we carry ourselves matters. Let's elevate the way we speak about our home."

Representatives of WinCo did not return a request for comment on Friday.

Aside from that failure, most of the speech was about what's going right in Merced. Murphy pointed to new businesses downtown, like Aces & Kings Cheesecakes and Asip Coffee Roaster, (Ay-sip, not Ah-sip). He even announced a new candy store coming to downtown in April, called The Chocolate Dipper.

Downtown Merced has seen other activity like the work going on at the El Capitan Hotel, which is undergoing a face-lift from San Francisco-based Joie de Vivre Hotels. UC Merced also recently opened its Downtown Center, which is expected to hold 370 employees after completion.

Nearly 300 UC Merced staff members began moving into the new center on Friday, bringing an immediate boost to the area’s business community, according to UC Chancellor Dorothy Leland. "Economically, educationally and culturally, our growth and the city’s growth are intertwined," she said in a statement. "As UC Merced’s rapid expansion continues, so does the increased development of Merced and the San Joaquin Valley."

The Mainzer Theatre is also on the docket to be improved and turned into a spot for nightlife in Merced. "The downtown renaissance that is occurring now will only be strengthened as the opening date for the high-speed rail and the ACE train station in 2027 approach," Murphy said.

Questions over the high-speed rail plans have come up as the California High-Speed Rail Authority recently announced a $3 billion jump in costs in the Central Valley alone. Merced's stop is supposed to open in the first phase of building.

Merced is also seeing improvements at Merced Mall and funding is available to extend Campus Parkway to connect the growing UC Merced campus to Highway 99.

At last year's State of the City, Murphy called Merced "a city on the rise," and this week he doubled down.

"My conviction of the strength of Merced is stronger today more than ever," he said. "Merced is a city on the rise, and it is our time."

The mayor announced a new website, www.iammerced.com, and hashtag, #IamMerced, both of which are parts of a campaign to get citizens to find a way to improve Merced.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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