Downtown Santa Maria has had its share of ups and downs over the past 108 years, but with a new movie theater going up as quickly as a stage curtain and new businesses preparing to move in, things are looking up downtown.
The Great Recession caused the latest downturn for downtown, claiming among other businesses, Gottschalk’s and Mervyn’s, both of which had prominent downtown stores.
The cornerstone for downtown’s latest revival is a brand new 14-screen theater that’s rising from the footprint of the old Gottschalk’s building on the east end of the Town Center mall.
“The theater is underway. We are scheduled right now with an opening this fall,” said Amber Lease, public relations and marketing director for the Town Center. “The city has been great, and the workers are out there all the time.”
In addition to the theater, several new businesses are coming to the Town Center.
The One Way Skate Park recently had its grand re-opening and two other family activity businesses — On Deck batting cages and Kickers indoor soccer facility — are coming soon, Lease said.
“That basically rounds out our activity-based facilities,” Lease said, adding more new businesses are on the way. “We have four potential leases in the making right now — national names. We are looking at 12 new retailers and four new restaurants.”
Animal Kingdom, a pet store based in Grover Beach, also recently opened its doors.
Right across Broadway in Town Center West, National Stores Inc. is in the process of bringing a Fallas Discount Store into the old Mervyn’s building, said Dave Cross, director of the Economic Development Commission.
Mervyn’s, a 59-year-old department store based in Hayward, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and closed all of its stores in 2008, and the building has remained closed ever since.
National Stores Inc. began as a single store in downtown Los Angeles in 1962 and grew to more than 200 stores in five states — California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Texas. The company owns off-price stores under the names Fallas Paredes, Fallas Discount Stores, Fallas Kids Stores and Factory 2U.
Last year, Fallas opened new stores in Turlock and Montclair; Mesa, Ariz.; Las Cruces, N.M.; and Tropicana, Nev.
Filling the two biggest holes in the downtown area seems to be rejuvenating Santa Maria’s Downtown Merchant’s Association, Cross said. Over the years, the merchant’s group has come and gone, but with a prod from the Santa Maria Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Commission, the group is meeting again.
“We thought now was the perfect time to revive that concept to put together a merchant’s committee,” Cross said. “It looks like the economy’s improving and it’s getting better.”
Cross said the chamber, city Recreation and Parks Department, and several other organizations are also involved in the new association.
The Recreation and Parks Department holds several events downtown. The annual Classic Car Show in September and the Autumn Arts Grapes and Grains Festival are held in the McClelland Street corridor. The department will also hold two of its Concerts in the Park summer series on McClelland Street this year.
Cross said those activities, along with those at the Abel Maldonado Community Youth Center, will add energy to the downtown area.
“It’s a good cross-section of merchants and other groups,” Cross said. “It looks like this committee can generate the kind of interest in downtown Santa Maria that’s needed.”
Something else that might drive interest in the downtown is a new trolley that the city’s Public Transit Division is working on. Santa Maria is using federal grant money to purchase the vehicles, according to Transit Manager Austin O’Dell.
Similar to trolleys in downtown San Luis Obispo and in the Five Cities out to Avila Beach, the rubber-wheeled trolleys will run a downtown circuit.
“We’re really excited about it and really positive with the reaction we had from the Downtown Merchants Association,” O’Dell said. “I think it will give a good sense of unity and provide additional service in the downtown.”