State - INACTIVE

Gottschalks Revival? Modesto businesspeople say stores much missed

The planned rebirth of Gottschalks has many in Modesto excited.

While details are few and more won't be released until a planned news conference today, the new version of the 105-year-old chain will be named Gottschalk by Joe Levy.

Backers hope to open several of the stores across the state.

For Modesto, which used to be home to two successful stores, that could mean the return of a much-missed institution.

"If a new (store opened,) customers would scream and come running," said Terry Wiggs, owner of Terry's Touch of Gold in Century Center in east Modesto. "I would think they'd put up a banner and run down main street for it."

Modesto's former Gottschalks sites, at Century Center and Vintage Faire Mall, have fared differently since the retailer closed its doors in July.

The three-story, 150,000-square-foot Vintage Faire store was taken over by a new, expanded Forever 21 in August. Since then, it has become a bustling anchor in the mall, attracting a younger clientele than its previous tenants.

Across town, the chain's former Century Center space has been vacant since the closure. The nearly 90,000-square-foot space once anchored the shopping center, which houses about 30 other retailers and a Raley's supermarket.

For shops such as Terry's Touch of Gold and Hallmark Gold Crown, Gottschalks' absence still is felt strongly.

"We must get 15 to 20 calls a day because Gottschalks has gone out," said Hallmark assistant manager Ruby Rogers. "We have our loyal customers who come back and every day we hear, 'We miss Gottschalks, we miss Gottschalks.' "

The store was a fixture in Century Center for almost 30 years. The branch had expanded over the years to include the entire northeast corner of the complex.

Rogers said the Century Center Gottschalks customers haven't found a store to fill its void.

"They don't go to the mall, they shop here," she said. "That was one of their big stores. They are older people, they don't want to mess with the young teenagers."

The announcement comes at a time when few department stores are aggressively expanding.

Tim Bettencourt of CoSol Real Estate, a Modesto commercial realty firm, said the biggest retailer growth recently has been in the discount stores such as Big Lots, Dollar Tree and 99 Cents Only stores.

But, given the available retail space and 20 to 25 percent drop in commercial rental prices since the recession started, Bettencourt said the new Gottschalks could find some deals.

"It's a good time to lease space," he said. "Believe me, something like that will create a buzz. I am sure they will get bombarded with solicitations with space. They can pick and choose what kinds of locations they want. So there is a real opportunity."

Maria Halstead, senior property manager at Vintage Faire Mall, said while its former Gottschalks shoppers have switched to stores such as J.C. Penney and Macy's, there should still be brand loyalty in the area.

"Certainly, that name is very recognizable in Northern California," she said.

While any Phoenix-like resurrection is still far off, Bettencourt said the new Gottschalks should take a serious look at returning to Modesto.

"A Gottschalks-style store could go back into Century Center and do very well," he said. "I think there is a void in Modesto and in the Central Valley for stores like that. My 88-year-old mom, for example, loved Gottschalks. She wouldn't go to Forever 21."

Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland

can be reached at mrowland@modbee.com or 578-2284.

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