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Business

Rock Creek Plaza now ready for its close-up

By: Gloria Young Journal Staff Writer
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Business owners in the Rock Creek Plaza shopping center in North Auburn agree that the recent remodel has made a big difference in looks, lighting and parking. But so far, it isn’t improving their bottom line. At Pizza Express, owners Jeff and Amiee Jensen say the update from the very worn 1970s look hasn’t brought the business boost they’d hoped for. “We’re down about 25 percent over the last year,” Amiee Jensen said Tuesday. In response to tough economic times, they’ve made some changes to try to attract more customers. “We put in pizza by the slice and better lunch specials,” she said. “We have a lunch card and take-and-bake now.” The Jensens also put a sign on their car in the parking lot for extra visibility. Several doors away, at Robin’s Hallmark, owner Connie Van Horne is pleased with the strip mall’s new look. “I think it makes the center look healthier because the parking area is a little smaller, so it looks fuller,” she said. But Van Horne’s business struggled through the construction period this spring and hasn’t fully recovered. Now that the main part of the work is completed and with BevMo and Best Buy open, she’s seeing more visitors, but they’re not necessarily coming into the store. “With the economy, it is going to take more than a facelift,” she said. At Scrapbook Center, owner Matt Behrendt is facing a similar slowdown. “People are just nervous,” he said. “They don’t want to spend money.” The remodel also brought a financial hurdle he didn’t expect — replacing exterior signage. “We’ve been here four years and our sign is still to code,” Behrendt said. However, Behrendt said he was advised that his sign was broken and he’ll need to replace it at a cost of $2,500. “I can understand not putting back up signs that aren’t legal, but not for newer stores that had signs up to code,” he said. At Hapa Sushi, Rich Fiedler is also reluctant to purchase new signs. “They want one in front and back,” he said. But overall, he’s happy with the additional lighting and modernized look of the center. There’s still more to be done, he added, pointing out the gravel-covered and slanted street in front of his restaurant. Every booth and table were taken during Tuesday’s lunch hour at Strings Italian Café. “Business slowed during the construction, but it hasn’t hurt us after construction,” co-owner Monica Cathers said. “It has brought some new people, because they are coming to see the new Best Buy and the BevMo. For the most part, it has increased our business.” As part of the construction agreement with center owners, Intervest Properties of Beverly Hills, Strings now has a patio for outdoor dining, Cathers said. The multi-phase construction project includes plans for a new building at the corner of Highway 49 and Bell, according to Jim LoBue, deputy director of the Placer County Redevelopment Agency. “The idea was to move the Rite Aid to that building. It would be more efficient and a better operational building for them,” he said. “Then they’d use the existing Rite Aid for something else.” Also in the works is a facelift for Kmart and some improvements along Highway 49, Bell Road and Quartz Drive, LoBue said. “Most of the work will be outside of the road surface — sidewalks, landscaping and repaving of Quartz Drive through the center with the some decorative treatment, lighting, pedestrian amenities,” he said. The improvements are being funded by a $1.8 million community development block grant from the state Department of Housing and Community Development. “What made the project eligible is it is in a redevelopment zone and considered a blighted area,” he said. “Secondly, the project creates new jobs for the local community.” The Journal’s Gloria Young can be reached at gloriay@goldcountrymedia.com or comment at Auburnjournal.com.