Midtown project next on list

New phase too late for some businesses who’ve moved or shuttered
By: Art Garcia Telegraph Correspondent
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When the Sutter Street Historical District revitalization is completed, midtown Folsom is next up for a rejuvenation effort, but for some businesses, it’s too late. “We’re looking to kick off another significant effort later this year in the city’s central business district,” said Evert Palmer, Folsom’s assistant city manager. Generally, that’s the area of East Bidwell and Riley Street north of Blue Ravine Road. Meanwhile, Visconti’s Ristorante moved south about a year ago from East Bidwell in midtown to be closer to Highway 50 and the more heavily trafficked commercial area near the Palladio shopping center. Planning to also head south from East Bidwell in the central area is Manderes Restaurant, relocating to the Target shopping center at Blue Ravine Road. Also gone from the central district are two boutique gift shops going out of business the end of this month, Periwinkle Gifts Inc. and Lil’ Treasured Gifts; vacating the area earlier were Steve’s Pizza and Roma’s Pizza. Roma’s relocated to Carmichael, citing better lease rates. Most closures blame the economic recession for forcing their shuttering, but one of the merchants folding shop also points a finger at city leaders and the Folsom Chamber of Commerce for their alleged lack of support of local small businesses. Nanon LaSalle, owner of Lil’ Treasured Gifts, said she was a member of the chamber her first year in business “and although it offers a lot of great things, for me being a member didn’t help.” Susan Larg, operator of Periwinkle, said her shop’s failure is based on “just no business,” thanks largely to the economic times, but she also chastises the city and the chamber for not doing more to help small companies draw customers. She uses the city of Lodi as an example of successful cooperative sales-boosting efforts with local merchants. Her store is slated to close at the end of the month. “I’ve tried our chamber (and) I’ve tried the city,” she said. “Lodi has a program two or three times a year, always on the 30th of the month, where you spend $30 in a locally owned business and you get entered into a raffle. The city gives away prizes. “I’ve talked to everyone who will listen about doing a Shop Folsom Day like Lodi does. They get all the media out, it’s on the morning news shows and it’s great publicity for the city. Stores say it’s doubled their business. It gets people in and shows small businesses can compete with the big-box stores. But nobody here will listen.” Evert Palmer doesn’t see a trend of businesses moving from upper East Bidwell Street to fancier, and pricier, locations at the southern end of Folsom’s main commercial artery. Rather, said Folsom’s assistant city manager, the movement is part of what the real estate industry calls a “flight to quality.” “There’s a lot more than we like of vacant retail space in Folsom (due to the recession),” he said. “It’s probably easy to conclude there’s a natural progression of some older, established businesses that will move out of older parts of town into newer parts.” With vacancies creating compressed lease rates, older businesses may be looking to upgrade their office buildings or retail space. “Rather than a mass exodus from the older parts of town to the newer, I would say if you looked hard enough you’d find evidence that the overall flight to quality that is happening in the Sacramento region at large is also happening here within the city,” Palmer said. Larg took issue with what she called the chamber’s lack of support for small businesses. According to chamber officials, that’s just not true. “We have several programs and it’s obvious she didn’t get involved in them,” countered Joe Gagliardi, president and chief executive of the Folsom Chamber of Commerce and its affiliated Tourism Bureau and Folsom Economic Development Corp. (FEDcorp) “We have a chamber discount card to drive people to businesses that she could participate in. We do e-mail blasts to our members and she could take part in that,” he said. “We have FEDcorp, which in November launched a loan program for small businesses.” Gagliardi said he’s sad to see Larg close her shop. “We never like to see anybody go out of business,” he commented. “But there are any number of programs we offer. There are monthly home office/small office meetings, for example, where there’s sharing of ideas on what to do with businesses. “We’re doing everything we can to try to help people, but if we don’t hear about it we don’t go around knocking on doors, asking are you going out of business,” Gagliardi continued. What’s next? FEDcorp last month was given a City of Folsom contract to look at the central business district, including the area around Wal-Mart and the Department of Motor Vehicles. “We’re charged with looking at a revitalization and seeing what can be done there as the city continues to grow to the east and the south,” said Gagliardi. FEDcorp led the restoration of Sutter Street in Historic Folsom and the community participation process, developing the concept plans and finalizing the design. Something similar might be part of the plan proposed for the central district “but probably to a lesser degree,” he said. “How does the traffic circulation work, how can we beautify it, do we have sidewalks, how can we get site improvements done? We just got the contract so we haven’t had the first meeting yet,” he said. When the Palladio shopping center at the end of East Bidwell completes construction there will be a heavy commercial tilt to the south. Can the central, or midtown, district compete with that? “I think it’s going to have to reinvent itself,” Gagliardi said. “There’s a lot of 1970s style design in the area. For Sutter Street, we had a professional company come in that does retail studies and make a recommendation on what needed to happen there. We’ll probably do a similar thing for upper East Bidwell.”