Merchants at Century Center are watching anxiously as their neighboring Gottschalks store slowly goes under.
Patricia Crabtree, the owner of Country Shelf Flowers & Gifts, thinks she and the other businesses in the center will be fine because most are well-established and have lots of longtime, loyal customers.
Crabtree, who's operated the store just a few doors down from Gottschalks for nearly 30 years, expects foot traffic to drop when the department store closes, but not significantly.
"People come here to go to a specific business: Terry's Touch of Gold, Creations, Hallmark, Ridgway's, Donoby's, Shoes That Fit, The Ice Cream Co., GNC, Blockbuster, Raley's," she said. "The good thing about this center is you can get whatever you need."
Crabtree added that the variety of businesses and their willingness to work together -- referring someone who's planning a wedding from her shop to the nearby jeweler and hair salon -- will sustain them.
She just wants Century Center owner Kimco Realty to find a tenant like Gottschalks, one with quality merchandise that will attract shoppers willing to pay for it.
Brian Lee, owner of Donoby's Bar & Grill, and Rob Coey, owner of The Ice Cream Co., agree. They want to see the space occupied by a tenant that will enhance the center's mix of businesses.
And none of them want it to be vacant for long.
"Just seeing it empty won't be a positive thing for us," said Lee, who's owned Donoby's for 18 years. "It creates a negative attitude about the center."
He and Coey are feeling the negative effects of the recession as fewer people dine and drink out.
"Less people are coming into the center these days," Coey said. He's owned the homemade ice cream and sandwich shop, which opened in 1979, for about four years.
If the Gottschalks space does go unoccupied for any length of time, Coey and Lee said, that will only make things tougher.
Gary Boudreaux understands their concerns. Until he retired four years ago, he was the only manager the Century Center Gottschalks ever had. Before that, he ran the Gray's department store, Gottschalks' predecessor at the center.
So he knows just what a good retail site it is.
Boudreaux led the way as the small east Modesto store became a top performer for Gottschalks. He said the space could do the same for another tenant because of its location and the other strong businesses there.
He said Gottschalks was successful at Century Center because it had a wide range of merchandise, top-flight brands and an underserved slice of the community. Boudreaux said the next tenant will need those qualities, plus the ability to match the chemistry of the center's current businesses.
"It was the right place at the right time for Gottschalks," he said.
And, he hopes, it will be again for the next tenant.
-- David W. Hill