Eco-Friendly Frozen Yogurt Shop Opens in Merced

Merced, Calif. The empty storefronts that line Main Street in Downtown Merced have become a grim reminder of the recession. But now a new frozen yogurt shop is hoping to help turn the tide.

Forte Frozen Yogurt is owned by four young friends from the Bay Area. They decided to open up shop below the Historic Merced Theatre after a convincing phone call from Alexander Lu-Pon's sister, who is a student at U.C. Merced. "She called us and said I don't know what Merced needs, but we need something, and it would be great if you could be that something."

They eventually decided on this environmentally friendly self-serve yogurt shop that features bowls made from sugar cane husk and potato skin spoons. And they immediately began forming bonds with other downtown merchants, like Playhouse Merced which gave the store a free Harry Potter makeover to help promote the film at the nearby movie theatre.

"We've really tried to tie ourselves into the community and work with each and every individual we can so we can build a communal feel around forte and really be a focal point or launching pad for something greater here in this town."

The green store has quickly become a favorite of university students. "Since I'm from Orange County and a lot of people are from the Bay Area, we're used to places like this, so coming here to Merced to have a yogurt place, that's great," said U.C. Merced student Jazmine Finley.

City leaders see Forte as one of the early signs of a brighter future for downtown and they expect even more activity once enrollment at U.C. Merced tops 5,000. It's expected to reach 3,200 this fall. "I think over the next year it will be a gradual, slow growth people will proceed with caution, and I truly believe in 2010-2011, we're going to see more investment in the downtown area."

In the meantime, the Forte owners are enjoying the sweet reward of satisfied customers. "What we hear most often is this is exactly what Merced needs," said Alexander Lu-Pon.

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