- By: Al Smith, President and CEO
These last few months, the Chamber’s Connect magazine has been identifying what we have lost in Fresno as a community. Asking the question; what changes are taking place and where do we think we are going in the future?
In the two previous issues, we touched upon Fresno’s architecture and neighborhoods. This issue talks about retailers – those from the past, those that have survived the past and those that are laying the foundation for the future.
Many have either forgotten, or (as newcomers) simply aren’t aware of the rich heritage the city of Fresno has enjoyed. Going back to 1871 this area was a vast desert wasteland overrun by elk, deer and a few cattle. It wasn’t until Moses Church designed the methods for bringing water to this soil that the area was transformed into the great agricultural masterpiece it is today – one that literally feeds the world.
From that genesis, Fresno transitioned out of a bawdy, wild-west community run by the saloon bosses and then a full fledged incorporated city in 1885 – becoming the premier city between San Francisco and Los Angeles. It was resplendent with a stunning architecturally-rich downtown; a major center for culture and entertainment with its opera houses and theatres and a thriving business and retail foundation.
However, there appears to be a tipping point around the 1950’s and the 1960’s when urban renewal and redevelopment plans caused drastic changes to downtown and to the Fresno psyche. The experiment of Fulton Street becoming an outdoor mall; Broadway Avenue almost disappearing; the demolition of historic structures on Van Ness and Broadway and the ultimate destruction of our historic courthouse in 1966 (which you can see pictured on cover of our Facebook Page); the trek north with expansion of shopping centers and tract housing all combined to paralyze the pride and the lifestyle of yesterday’s grandeur.
As the 21st Century began, Fresnans started witnessing a renaissance of retail activity. Downtown revitalization efforts are more vibrant today than we have seen in decades and retail centers throughout the community are exploding with activity. The “little country town in central California” is destined to have a population of 800,000 in twenty years – statistics you better believe are not lost on the retail industry.
Remember the time in which everyone said Fresno would never have fine dining or upscale retailers?
Well, look’s who has found our little city! Abercrombie & Fitch; Pottery Barn, Banana Republic; Coldwater Creek; Sephora; Anthropologie; bebe; Coach; White House/Black Market (I’ll admit the women in the office had to tell me of these names). However, as a guy, I did know Ruth’s Chris; Cheesecake Factory; P.F. Chang’s and Fleming’s Steakhouse all have bustling Fresno locations.
I would point out that there are smart people running these companies, and they know an opportunity when they see one. We are on their radar screen. They see something in the future of Fresno.
When you add these additions to Fresno’s still thriving and always welcome old regulars – entities that have been a part of the landscape for decades such as Patrick James, Stephan Cori, Macy’s, Posh, the Elbow Room, the Manhattan, Tahoe Joe’s, the Lime Lite, George’s and many more – one can appreciate the tremendous expansion of the retail health of our community.
Where, in the past we would need to go out of town for these amenities, now we truly can “Buy Local”. How cool is that?