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Retail Boom Underway in Ventura

Business: New shopping centers are going up and some existing ones are getting face-lifts. Supermarkets are also being expanded.

September 05, 2002|SUZIE ST. JOHN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Along with an increase in new homes, Ventura is undergoing a spurt of retail growth as several shopping centers are being built and existing ones receive major face-lifts.

On Wednesday, the Barnes & Noble at the Ventura Gateway Plaza, at the site of the former 101 Drive-in, opened its doors one day after a Vons on East Thompson Boulevard in midtown Ventura closed to make way for a larger Vons.

"There is a boom going on right now," said Stratis Perros, an associate planner with the city. "There have been a lot of demographic changes with people from Santa Barbara and Los Angeles moving to this area.

"Overall, Ventura is becoming more of an affluent community. Retailers recognize that trend and with the population rising you need more shopping," Perros added.

Montalvo Square on South Victoria Avenue north of the Ventura Freeway has all of its major anchors in place--including a Longs Drugs and LA Fitness spa--with only a few small retail spots remaining to be leased.

The center includes a Ralphs grocery store that moved in May from its previous location across the street.

Another Vons, in the Victoria Plaza on Telegraph Road, also in midtown, will be expanding next year.

In each case, instead of relocating the supermarkets, the company is demolishing the existing buildings and replacing them with a bigger store on the site.

Remodeling was considered for both sites, but because of the ages of the buildings--the Telegraph Road store was built in the mid-1950s--it was more cost-effective to start from scratch, Perros said.

In both cases, the shops surrounding the grocery stores will receive exterior face-lifts that will match the designs of the new markets.

At the Ventura Gateway Plaza, Barnes & Noble becomes the second of the center's three anchors to open its doors. Pier One, which also moved from a smaller nearby site, held its grand opening Friday. A Kohl's department store is expected to open by spring.

Restaurants Macaroni Grill and Applebee's are expected to open by year's end at Gateway Plaza, and the center should have a Linens N Things and smaller retailers opening by spring.

Although the new center has attracted tenants from a competitor, Perros said the former sites will most likely be leased soon.

"We all know that residential vacancies are tight in this area; well, so are commercial ones," Perros said. "I can't imagine spaces staying open too long, especially the ones with good visibility."

Bookstore manager Stephanie Krueger said the Barnes & Noble was nearing its ninth anniversary at the old site, 4360 E. Main St., and needed room to expand.

"This is a community full of readers that are every age, sex and ethnic background. Ventura has needed a larger bookstore for years," said Krueger, who has managed the Ventura store for three years.

And a number of those customers turned out Tuesday night to preview the new store. For three hours, employees dressed in evening attire greeted those getting a first look at the two-story, 30,000-square-foot bookstore that is twice as large as the one it replaces.

Hoping a car ride would lull their 9-month-old son to sleep, Martina Migenes and Scotty Morris were cruising by when a full parking lot and a steady stream of people entering the brightly lighted building caught their attention.

"We had no idea that it was already open but it's pretty great," said longtime Ventura resident Morris, the lead singer for the band Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. "I know a lot of people are bummed out about the city's development but I like it. It's great to have some place in Ventura that stays open until 11 every night."

Along with more books, the new store adds a large cafe and a music-listening system that lets customers listen to any CD in the store by passing it under a scanner.

Customer Joan Barminski of Ventura said she was most impressed by the children's section on the second floor.

"This is really a treat to have such a large kids' section. The one at the other store was so small," Barminski said. "I just hope [Ventura] can support a store of this size."

Ventura City Councilman James Monahan said that he has no doubts the Gateway Plaza development will succeed as well as the other commercial developments in town.

"We're finally catching up with the growth of the population. It's been tight. The positive changes that have been made in the downtown area are finally spreading to other areas," Monahan said.

"It's all good for the city."

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