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Gottschalk return great news for Auburn, shoppers

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Welcome back, Gottschalks. This week’s startling announcement that the defunct department store chain will rise from the ashes of bankruptcy should have Auburn shoppers dancing for joy. While the first store opening is pegged for Clovis, company officials have clearly identified Auburn as a future store site — hopefully sooner than later. According to reports, the new stores will be known as Gottschalk by Joe Levy, after the former CEO giving new life to the retailer. The stores will feature the same types of clothing, bedding, jewelry, shoes and cosmetics that served the chain well for nearly a half century. Ironically, the sputtering national retail economy that helped kill Gottschalks in 2009 might just be its saving grace in Auburn. Following bankruptcy and liquidation proceedings, the final remnants of the Elm Avenue store were removed last July. The store space has sat vacant since, a source of intrigue and speculation as local consumers wondered what retailer would join anchors Save Mart or CVS Pharmacy in the center. Some speculated that Kohl’s or J.C. Penney might locate there, but the building’s smaller footprint didn’t meet those company’s specs. Now, with retail showing signs of life and Americans seemingly more comfortable with their wallets, a Gottschalk store looks like the perfect fit. While shoppers might argue about whether a Gottschalk store offers the brands, styles and service Auburn expects, the numbers have said otherwise. The Auburn store was considered one of the stars of the once thriving 58-store chain, a shining example of president Irving Levy’s model of locating stores in smaller markets without significant department store competition. However, such shelter is hard to find in retail, and Gottschalks mounted an aggressive growth and acquisition campaign, adding dozens of stores in urban areas, Oregon, Washington and other western states. Overextended and underfunded, Gottschalks joined Mervyns, Circuit City and Linens ’n’ Things among the retail casualties of the Great Recession. The return of a Gottschalk store is great news for Auburn, the Elm Avenue shopping center and city coffers, since a portion of the sales tax generated at the store will flow to city hall. It’s also a boost for the Think Auburn First movement gaining traction with local shoppers. Gottschalk is a tried-and-true, successful concept in Auburn. Local businesses have adapted and thrived around it, providing complementary products and services. Gottschalk also hired and trained local employees, many of whom worked at the store for years. If Gottschalk didn’t have what shoppers wanted, these employees knew what other local stores offered. Having Gottschalk back in Auburn provides shoppers with a reason to stay in town, rather than burning gas and time on a search mission to Roseville, Rocklin or Sacramento. And since they’re staying in town, they’re more likely to pick up lunch or dinner or visit a nearby merchant they haven’t seen for awhile. Gottschalk also has fans in neighboring cities like Grass Valley, Nevada City and Lincoln. Loyal Gottschalk shoppers will likely drive to Auburn, spending their money here and shopping our other fine stores. That wouldn’t be the case if an existing department store, such as Kohl’s, had decided on Auburn. The Clovis store opening is scheduled for November, with Auburn to come sometime after. Can the Auburn store open at the same time, bringing a much-needed spark to the holiday shopping season? Joe Levy, we’re sure a contingent of Auburn business leaders would be happy to host you and your executive team for lunch and a spirited discussion on how to accelerate the Auburn store launch. See the investment the city is making in Central Square and Streetscape, and the progress it’s making in economic development. See how the city has kept a tight lid on expenses, whether it be salaries or upgrading the wastewater treatment plant. See how the chamber of commerce and business associations are working together to play host to the Amgen Tour of California in May. See — and be a part of — Auburn’s renewal. See why Auburn is a great place to start over.