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Thursday, Jul 17 2014 07:29 PM

More retail: New shops at River Walk open in February

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BY COURTENAY EDELHART Californian staff writer cedelhart@bakersfield.com

Just weeks before the grand opening of a massive new outlet mall at the base of the Grapevine, real estate developer Castle & Cooke has announced a slew of new tenants at its Shops at River Walk and Gosford Village shopping centers.

The company confirmed rumors that a 35,000-square-foot Nordstrom Rack is set to open at Shops at River Walk, in addition to a Sprouts Farmers Market, a DSW and a BevMo!. All of those stores are new to Bakersfield and scheduled to start opening in February.

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Nordstrom Rack is an offshoot of the popular Seattle-based Nordstrom department store chain. It sells discounted designer brands.

Phoenix-based Sprouts Farmers Market is a grocery store chain with an emphasis on healthy and all-natural foods. The new store will be 24,000 square feet.

DSW is a designer shoe seller based in Columbus, Ohio, opening an 18,000-square-foot store. Concord-based beer, wine and spirits retailer BevMo! will open a 10,000-square-foot store.

River Walk also is getting a TJ Maxx. The clothing retailer has an existing location at 3412 Ming Ave.

The new stores will "provide a tremendous amount of synergy and a shopping experience that offers a wide breadth of products and services," said Castle & Cooke Senior Vice President Scott Thayer in a statement issued late Wednesday.

In the southwest, the Gosford Village power center anchored by Walmart, Kohl's and Sam's Club will get a Chili's restaurant toward the end of the year.

The flurry of retail development is a reflection of growth in residential development on the west side as the housing market is recovering, said Darlene Mohlke, vice president of sales and marketing at Castle & Cooke.

"Commercial will follow the rooftops," she said. "The national retailers are definitely back in the market."

Local retail construction came to a screeching halt during the Great Recession. Even existing anchor spots were hard to fill after the death of Mervyn's, Gottschalks and Borders.

Purchased for a song after its owners went bankrupt, East Hills Mall has no anchors and few stores with name recognition. Golden State Mall recently closed after it, too, went bankrupt, sending its primarly mom and pop tenants scrambling to recover lost rent. The former location of a Target on Wible Road remains empty years after the store moved to Valley Plaza.

But the 320,000-square-foot Outlets at Tejon is fully leased ahead of its Aug. 7 opening with 71 stores and restaurants, and now Castle & Cooke is getting some traction.

"The big driver was consumer confidence, which really plummeted after the housing market dropped, but now there are all these reports of more employment activity, and interest rates are fairly low," said John Emery, dean of the School of Business and Public Administration at Cal State Bakersfield. "Nobody but the Fed is worried about inflation, and mostly they're just worried we don't have enough."

It speaks volumes that even supermarkets, with their razor thin profit margins, are trickling into town. In addition to Sprouts Farmers Market, Aldi is sniffing around Bakersfield, said Garret Tuckness, senior vice president of Collier International's retail property division.

"We've had a lot of vacancies absorbed in the last few years, and there are more tenants looking at our market," he said. "In the next few years it's very possible that we're going to see some new shopping centers being developed, especially ones with smaller neighborhood markets."

The vast rollout and then contraction of Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market had as much to do with poor management as bad timing, coming as it did just as the recession was taking no prisoners, Tuckness said.

But now Walmart Neighborhood Market is coming to Oildale, and possibly some outlying areas of the county, he said.

"It will be interesting to see how they do," Tuckness said.

The big winners during the recession were discount retailers such as Family Dollar and Dollar General, which took advantage of low rent and development costs during the economic downturn, said Vince Roche, senior director and principal at Cushman & Wakefield | Pacific.

But more recently, some middle- and upper-tier stores have come in, he said. Dick's Sporting Goods took the home of Linens 'n Things, HomeGoods moved into a former Long's drug store and Hobby Lobby is in a former Mervyn's.

Castle & Cooke's new tenants are continuing that trend.

"They're really significant, some great brands," Roche said. "A lot of people in Bakersfield have been waiting for a Nordstrom's or something like it for a long time."

Castle & Cooke took some heat a few years ago after promising higher end retailers at Shops at River Walk only to install one of several Targets in town.

Asked if she now felt vindicated, Castle & Cooke's Mohlke hesitated.

"I wouldn't call it vindication," she said carefully. "I'd just say it's verification that the company's promise to continue building beautiful shopping centers is coming to fruition now."

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