|Keeping Anna’s dream alive in difficult times
Family thrift store’s struggle to stay alive hampered by unappealing location and staggering economy
Zelda Morrow, along with her family, is doing her level best to keep her late sister’s dream alive. But an economy that continues to limp along and a location that currently is less than ideal have been major obstacles.
The dream of Anna Bernardi was to open a thrift shop in her hometown, Rohnert Park. Bernardi had been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, and her relatives feared she’d pass away before she could see her vision come to fruition. So Morrow took action.
“I got the family together, and we got the store opened and gave it to her before her birthday,” Morrow said. “So, she had her dream before she died.”
The family opened Anna’s Family Tradition Thrift in May of 2010, and Bernardi passed away on June 15, 2010. The store since has fallen on hard times, but Morrow and family are determined to keep it open.
Center no longer viable
Anna’s Family Tradition Thrift is located in the Southwest Shopping Center in Rohnert Park. The buildings on the site at Southwest Boulevard adhere to all the safety codes, but the physical appearance looks shoddy and run down.
“This shopping center’s not real viable any more,” Morrow said. “It used to be the main shopping center in town. But since Safeway opened, this place has been pretty dead.”
Morrow has seen firsthand the rapid rate of business openings and closings since moving into the center.
“There were five other businesses that have come and gone since we’ve been here,” she said. “There was a tanning salon, a hair salon, a Thai restaurant and a Mexican restaurant. The Mexican restaurant changed hands twice and still went down. Right now, I’m looking at losing it if things don’t change. We put blood, sweat and tears into it, but sometimes it gets to the point where you have nothing left to put in.
“All the businesses in here are really struggling, and it’s hard when you put your life into something, everything you have, to see it struggle hurts.”
No improvements planned
Ralph Geissler, who owns the Southwest Shopping Center, said there currently are no plans for physical improvements to the property. Geissler cites the poor economy as the main reason the shopping center is struggling. He said the shopping center is at 75 percent capacity and that he’s recently rented two units to a commercial photography business.
“As long as people are being frugal and aren’t spending money, it’s hard to do anything with the property,” Geissler said. “I’ve got good tenants, but until the economy picks up, not much is going to change.”
Geissler had owned the property from 1989 to 2004 when he sold it. The group that purchased the property proved financially insolvent, and Geissler repossessed the property in 2009. He said he’s not adverse to selling the property again.
“One thing you learn in life is that real estate is always for sale,” he said.
He said he’s tried to lure businesses by lowering his rent from $1.50 per square foot to 80 cents per square foot. The Southwest Shopping Center is one of two Geissler owns. The other is in Yuba City.
The two biggest stores in the Shopping Center are 49er Pet, which has been there for years, and the Dollar Depot, a discount store that has been in the center for a little more than eight months.
“We need more attention to the center…we need to find ways to improve the foot traffic here,” said Tony Vadpey, owner of Dollar Depot. “We tried to talk to the City of Rohnert Park, but they currently have no plans for this center. I know the city’s struggling too, but like I said, this place needs attention. I wish the city would have somebody sit down and talk with us about a development plan or dedicate some of the budget for promotion of some sort.”
Phone calls to RP City Manager Gabe Gonzalez were not returned by the time The Community Voice went to press.
Needing an anchor
One of the cornerstones for a successful shopping center is having a strong anchor store. Geissler feels Dollar Depot is the anchor at Southwest, but Vadpey disagrees.
“I wish we were, but we’re not enough of a brand name to be an anchor to a shopping center,” Vadpey said.
Another drawback to the center is the lack of adequate signage. There is nothing that really catches the eye of those driving on Southwest Boulevard.
“I think a lot of it has to do with people just flying by; they don’t know we’re here,” Morrow said. “They’re so used to there not being anything in here. They don’t realize there’s a good little store here. We’ve kept our prices so low, because that was Anna’s dream…to be something people can afford. People need to know this shopping center has something to offer.”
Morrow has considered moving the store to a new locale, but is unable to do so because they currently are behind on their rent and must get current before relocating.
“It’s really been a struggle, and we’re darned determined we’re going to see it through. Anna’s name meant a lot to us,” Morrow said.