Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Local businesses buck trend

Local businesses buck trend
By RACHEL RASKIN-ZRIHEN/Times-Herald staff writer
Article Launched: 10/07/2008

Fully-tiled and automated restrooms are one of the appreciated factors customers comment upon about the new Fairground Gas center, according to general manager Joe Martinez. The business opened on Fairgrounds Drive in Vallejo in June. (Mike Jory/Times-Herald)

Despite the city's recent bankruptcy filing and the national financial meltdown, all in Vallejo is not boarded-up storefronts and failed businesses.

In fact, the city has issued 390 licenses to new businesses since July 1, said assistant finance manager Susan Mayer, many of them for home-based businesses and service businesses.

Other projects are moving forward as well.

For instance, Ghiringhelli Foods, a frozen foods manufacturing plant, is about a week from opening on Benicia Road, an employee said, and demolition has begun in advance of construction of the Mare Island Town Center, which is expected to be the island's main retail area, a Vallejo Chamber of Commerce official said.

Most company officials contacted Monday said they went ahead with plans here because Vallejo's potential remains strong, current fiscal crisis notwithstanding.

"Why not (develop in Vallejo)?" said John Jay, whose firm is developing the Solano-80 Shopping Center, otherwise known as the Rite Aid Center, on Solano Avenue near Interstate 80. "Vallejo's a great town. You have the beautiful bluffs overlooking the Bay, a fabulous harbor, a vibrant, multi-cultural community. Vallejo's going to be OK."

Jay, who hopes to begin the center's complete revamping as soon as he gets the city's OK, said the renovated strip mall will be anchored by a Mi Pueblo Food Center.

"It's known as the Whole Foods of Hispanic supermarkets," Jay said. "But they draw a multicultural customer base because of the quality of the operation."

Also included will be a new Rite Aid Pharmacy prototype, with a drive-through pharmacy and a relocated new Taco Bell restaurant, Jay said.

"Harbor Freight Tools will have a new building - the old supermarket they're in will be torn down, and there will be other shops including a Subway Sandwiches, a nail salon, dry cleaner and, hopefully, a grill and bar," he said.

Fairgrounds Gas, which includes a car wash, full-service deli, espresso coffee bar and a convenience store, opened on Fairgrounds Drive in June, its general manager Joe Martinez said. And despite the economic downturn, things are going well, he said.

"We're probably the nicest business of our kind in northern California," Martinez said. "We took no shortcuts. The bathrooms, for instance, are fully tiled and automated, and they bring in a lot of people, believe it or not. We've gotten cards and letters thanking us."

People still live in Vallejo, and those people still need goods and services, said Vallejo Chamber of Commerce president Rick Wells. "It's not all doom and gloom locally," Wells said.

A case in point is BHM Construction, which moved to Mare Island from Davis recently.

"We moved to Vallejo because it's centrally located for us," said project manager Dana Edgar. "Besides, it's gorgeous out here."

Michael Bouyer moved Bouyer Productions, International, his advertising, consulting, design and production firm, to Georgia Street downtown for two reasons, he said.

"One is that I believe the city has great potential for going somewhere and the other is that I'm the type of person who makes things happen," said Bouyer. "So, I moved my business to downtown Vallejo to focus myself on helping the city change and realize its potential."

Gary Kline of North Bay Motors, which set up shop at Redwood Street and Sonoma Boulevard in recent weeks, offered similar reasons. "We're an expansion of Infinity of Fairfield, and we know this is a great location," Kline said. "The bankruptcy makes it a little difficult, but business always spikes up and down.

"This may be the worst in some time, but we feel it will bounce back. We believe the federal bailout will work and lenders will get back to lending, and our business in based on that."

• Contact Rachel Raskin-Zrihen at RachelZ@thnewsnet.com or 553-6824.