Slow Economy Hurting Merced Businesses

July 24, 2008 9:07:53 PM PDT
Several stores in downtown Merced have recently gone out of business.Downtown Merced is now lined with one empty retail space after another. We counted seven vacant shops on this block of Main Street alone.

Kadi Cruickshanks: "I see things closing every day that I wasn't expecting."

City leaders blame the housing crisis and the overall struggling economy.

Frank Quintero, Merced Redevelopment Agency: "The construction industry in Merced represented a 450 million dollar industry. It's tanked. So we are now looking at an industry that has dropped from 450 to about a 10 million dollar industry that we have seen in economic benefit to the community."

Also, the anticipated boost in business from U.C. Merced has taken longer than many merchants expected. Some stores that planned to cater to students have had to close their doors.

Frank Quintero: "We had people with innovative ideas that were just a little ahead of their time. They're gonna need a student base of 7-10 thousand students to really support the type of stores that students want."

The goal now is to find ways to fill these empty spaces...and to keep other stores from closing up shop.

Thursday morning redevelopment leaders met with downtown business owners to discuss ways to attract more stores and customers. The city has already invested more than 50 million dollars on everything from lighting to a new parking garage. And now there are plans to update the downtown website and make the weekly farmer's market more family friendly.

Forrest Hansen, Downtown Task Force Chairman: "We're re-branding the Thursday night market to bring people out that are gonna spend money in the businesses in downtown."

Store owner Tammy Davidson is looking forward to the changes, but says her designer-inspired handbag business is already booming. Davidson credits her success with offering a unique product and making her shop appealing inside and out.

Tammy Davidson: "Your front windows are your calling card, your free calling card. So a lot of times I have people come by every week just to see what I've changed in my window."

And she's confident her window won't be displaying a "for lease" sign any time soon.

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