Retail development slows in SH, yet new stores still anticipated

Staff Writer

With the downturn in the national economy, retail sales are slightly declining everywhere, including in Signal Hill. While development in the city has slowed significantly, new stores and restaurants are still coming to town. Recently, Gary Jones, the city’s director of community development told the Signal Tribune about some of those stores.
One of them, the Fresh & Easy grocery store, is still on track to open in Signal Hill sometime in the next year or so.
“Fresh & Easy is scaling back the number of stores it plans to open in the United States,” Jones said. “They may have made some missteps in understanding the way U.S. consumers shop and what they want to see in grocery stores.”
He noted that the chain, which is owned by Tesco (a British corporation), is altering its inventory and the way it does business in America. It’s also cutting back its plans for new stores in this country, partially because of the slowdown in retail sales throughout the U.S.
“We were concerned, but the good news is that our store seems to be moving forward,” he said. “We have had good meetings with Fresh & Easy representatives, and we think we have a site plan that is very close to planning commission approval.”
Jones added that the site plan could go to the planning commission before summer ends.
The proposed Fresh & Easy site is at the southwest corner of Cherry Avenue and Crescent Heights Street.
A new restaurant is coming to town too– a Jack-in-the-Box.
“It’s the next generation of Jack-in-the-Box and has a whole new design concept,” Jones said. “We usually associate Jack-in-the-Box with red and white plastic, but the newer interior is more like what you might see in a Starbucks. It has a fireplace visible from indoor dining areas and from outside the building.”
He noted that it will also include a drive-thru.
“The building has exterior panels that will depict some of the scenes from Jack-in-the-Box commercials,” he said. “It has very nice finishes and materials inside and outside that will surprise people. Other than the familiar signage, you won’t recognize it as a traditional Jack-in-the-Box.”
He added that the Jack-in-the-Box is going into the Signal Hill Gateway Shopping Center, located near the intersection of California Avenue and Spring Street.
“Right now we have Home Depot and Circuit City at that center,” he said. “But two more retail stores are going to be built there too.”
He explained that PETCO and Party City would build onto the existing Circuit City facility and complete that part of the shopping center.
“They are both fairly large stores, and they will have sort of whimsical modern architecture, which will enhance the appearance of the center,” he said. “In addition to that, there was a 7,000-square-foot store approved right at the corner of California and Spring Street. We don’t have a tenant for that yet, but we would like to see more eateries located there.”
PETCO is a national pet food and supply retailer similar to PETSMART.
“We know that the PETSMART in the Town Center is one of the city’s better stores; it has done very well,” Jones said. “I’m sure that PETCO would like to be in the same market area.”
Party City is a discount super store that sells party supplies for birthdays, weddings, graduations, national holidays, religious occasions and a wide range of other celebrations.
Jones said there is no estimate as to when construction might begin on Jack-in-the-Box, PETCO and Party City.
“Meanwhile, residential development in Signal Hill is flat,” Jones said. “We have Signal Hill Petroleum doing a little work on their Freeman Estates specific plan on Freeman Avenue north of 19th Street and west of Obispo. He explained that the company hopes to build some additional single-family dwelling lots, but it’s a very difficult area to deal with because of oil wells and different ownerships. “They’ve been working on it for several years. We did have a workshop on it recently and the project is moving along,” Jones said. “They are not going to develop it; they’re just going to get it ready for the next cycle.”
He added that a couple of other residential projects that were ready to go to construction have now been put on hold.
“One of them is Crescent Square near the Food for Less Shopping Center,” Jones said. “They graded the site and did a lot of preparation, but now it’s buttoned up waiting until the next building cycle makes it feasible. Another project, the former City View project, which is now called Aragon near Pacific Coast Highway and Obispo Avenue, is moving along slowly. They continue to make progress on their site preparations, but they are pushing off the start date,”
He noted that construction of new homes will probably remain sluggish until the housing market comes out of its current slump.
“We will probably have to wait until the mortgage crisis is over and the overall national economy rebounds,” he said. “I don’t think anybody can predict when that will happen.”

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