For 74 years, Modesto has been the J.M. Equipment Co.'s corporate headquarters and oldest store. That's about to change. The company is closing its Modesto and Stockton shops, merging its staff and moving to Manteca.
The move will affect 80 workers, including about 55 in Modesto.
"We're going to try to hang on to all our employees, but we know it's going to be tough for everyone now working in Modesto (to commute to Manteca)," said David Baiocchi, one of the company's co-owners. "We're going to work with scheduling to help everyone we can."
Baiocchi and five partners, all of whom had been J.M. Equipment employees, bought the company in 1999. The deal included a 10-year lease for the Modesto and Stockton stores. Since that decadelong obligation ended, the company has been trying to leave.
"If you were on Ninth Street, you would want out, too. It's a pretty bad neighborhood," Baiocchi said of the 3.7-acre facility at 819 S. Ninth St. in Modesto. "There was a shooting next door to us a few weeks ago. It was a random act of violence."
It wasn't always a rough neighborhood.
Jack Moore founded the company in 1936 as an Allis-Chalmers tractor dealer. It was conveniently located with Highway 99 and rail access. The site was so popular during World War II that it was used to build Jeeps, Baiocchi said.
Over the decades, the company opened locations in Stockton, West Sacramento, Fresno and Patterson.
The chain sells and services agricultural and material handling equipment throughout the Central Valley. That includes farm and hay equipment, feed boxes, forklifts and nut harvesting machinery.
"We have 60 vans on the road," Baiocchi said, "because we go to our customers to service the equipment."
He said employees can service anything within a one-hour drive of a store.
"Having stores within 30 minutes of each other in Modesto and Stockton didn't make sense," Baiocchi said. "We needed to consolidate."
So the company jumped when the perfect spot at a bargain price became available.
Manteca's Sexton Chevrolet closed in June, and GMAC took possession of the 7-acre site in November in lieu of foreclosure.
"GMAC was desperate to sell it," said Baiocchi, noting that it would have cost his company far more to build something smaller elsewhere.
The company paid $3.5 million for the property, including its 32,000-square-foot building, at 321 Spreckels Ave.
The deal closed Dec. 29.
"The parts and service departments and the showroom are already there," said Baiocchi, noting that the dealership was built just eight years ago. "All we've got to do is clean up and paint."
The company plans a grand opening for April in Manteca, but it has not announced specific dates for closing the Modesto and Stockton stores.
In addition to the Manteca shop, J.M. Equipment will establish spots in Turlock, Stockton and Lodi where customers can drop off parts for serv- icing.
That is supposed to help the company improve efficiency and lower costs, while providing customer convenience.
J.M. Equipment's Patterson store, at 16507 Highway 33, will have its service capabilities enhanced. A full shop and field service department will open there this spring.
The Modesto and Stockton properties are owned by George Betker of Oakdale. Betker said he will try to find new companies to buy, lease or rent the open space.
"Industrial property isn't the hottest thing on the market," Betker acknowledged. The Modesto property includes about 36,644 square feet in seven buildings.
Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2196.