Resurrecting Gottschalks proving difficult for Levy

FRESNO, Calif.

Joe Levy has twice announced he was about to open a new store called Gottschalk by Joe Levy in place of closed Gottschalks stores.

Last April, he called a press conference and pledged to open the new stores by November 2010.

When it didn't work out, he called another press conference to say he'd get the business off the ground by Easter.

Now, Easter has come and gone and nothing's happened.

Levy's self-imposed deadlines have come and gone twice now.

Action News talked to him Friday and he's still confident, but he admitted he's no further along than he was early last year.

Retail experts say it doesn't look good.

An unmarked building at Clovis' Sierra Vista mall was once the mighty Gottschalks department store, 100,000 square feet of retail space, and one of the most profitable stores in the chain.

It's also the first space targeted by Joe Levy as he tries to rebuild a smaller version of the collapsed giant. And people in Clovis want him to succeed.

"I think we have a big void where Gottschalks was," Clovisian Valerie Ward said. "I'd like to see them come back. I hope Mr. Levy is considering it seriously."

But after more than a year of unfulfilled expectations, mall management says the space is for lease and they're not holding it for Levy.

At least two of Levy's other early targets have fallen through.

"We've already had indications from Oakhurst and Auburn by the developers wanting us," Levy said in April 2010.

But the former Auburn Gottschalks is now leased by the bay area retailer McCaulou's.

And owners of the Oakhurst store say Gottschalk is out of the picture.

They have two other national retailers considering the location. But Levy said he has other options, including the Sierra Vista Mall.

Retail analysts say venture capitalists, the money people Levy needs, believe the light is dimming on department stores in general.

"So he's reset his expectations because the financing has come less rapidly than he hoped," said James Tenser of VSN Strategies.

Bringing Gottschalks back to life has obviously been a struggle, but Levy's persistence might also be a hint that something good is around the corner.

"The fact that he's not giving up tells me he must be having some 'almosts' along the way," Tenser said.

But Valley residents who loved Gottschalks are starting to have their doubts.

"Everybody I talk to, that's what we want to know: 'When is he going to come back?' or 'I'm afraid he's not going to come back, so what are we going to do?" Mary Vollman, of Clovis said.

Levy told Action News he still wants to open 19 stores and he has a new deadline.

He's hoping to get the first one off the ground by the end of the year.

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