REEDLEY – When it comes to the economic development in the community of Reedley, there is one important question to be noted: how do you gauge a city’s economic health?
In downtown Reedley, Ods Bodkins, a new business under development, is directly across 11th Street from a business with a “For Lease” sign in its window. On G Street, a Brick Stone coffee shop is coming soon, but at the opposite end of G, near 13th, Ideal Furniture Gallery is closing shop, a “Store Closing, Everything Must Go” banner hanging out front.
There is no shortage of empty storefronts and “Available Space” signs on G Street, but this is not to say downtown is a ghost town; far from it. Cars line G Street each day. Despite the dizzying heat, there is a steady stream of customers patronizing downtown businesses.
Not only that, the fact that The Trade Winds, a restaurant and bar opening at the end of the month, is just two stores down from the shuttered Reedley Pharmacy most likely has nothing to do with the city’s economic fortunes and all to do with the vicissitudes of operating a downtown business; at least, according to Erik W. Valencia, president and CEO of the Greater Reedley Chamber of Commerce.
From Valencia’s account, the conflicting economic signs in downtown Reedley are indicative of something larger – what he described as an “economic renaissance.”
“I’m excited. We’re definitely in a transition,” Valencia said. “We’ve had a couple of businesses that closed, and COVID hit us hard. I was exhausted. But now I see new blood coming in – what we are seeing is when one business closes, another one opens.
Valencia added, “What we’re seeing is the potential for what can happen post-COVID.”
Valencia said he has been trying to get a brewery downtown, but there hasn’t been any interest in that development as of yet. He also noted that, aside from Reedley’s downtown chapter, he is seeing growth in all areas – particularly in housing.
“More housing equals more people which equals more shoppers,” he said. “There is growth that is happening from the retail side as well. We secured acreage out by the Manning Bridge near the college. That will be bringing in new stores and dining establishments. Obviously, it’s two to three years off.”
DOWNTOWN IS ONE KEY
For Valencia, one key to Reedley’s economic health is a vibrant downtown. He said the chamber is honed in on Reedley’s downtown chapter, which he described as the heart of the community for any city.
“We want to make sure our heart is strong, because once these fringe businesses come in, our downtown will be in a good place,” Valencia said.
For Valencia, the city must strike a balance between preserving its uniqueness and providing services residents want.
“We are off the beaten path. It’s good and it’s bad,” he said. “But at some point, we will get the Denny’s and Chipotles. Those are down the road, but I know it will happen. But we want to focus on the mom and pops. The businesses that make Reedley unique. You can go to any town and they all look alike whereas Reedley has a unique identity. We want to continue to support mom and pops to keep the identity of the community.”
Providing residents the services offered by chain stores has proven to be a challenge. Valencia noted that years ago, Walmart passed on building a store in the city. Walmart, like most chains, have criteria for judging whether or not it is economically feasible to build a store.
“They have their own parameters,” Valencia said. “Population size. Proximity to freeways. Etc.”
Instead, the Chamber is focusing on building relationships with area businesses.
“We started working with Fresno Street Eats,” he said. “It’s a once a month event, but we’re hoping more of these food trucks will want to develop a brick and mortar presence here.” He added that there is also the potential for reaching out to businesses in Fresno and Visalia that are looking to expand.
However, there are challenges, of course. Valencia said the concern chamber members often express is the labor shortage, particularly in the food service sector.
“Finding employees is key,” he said. “Especially for the restaurant industry. But there’s a shortage (of workers) nationwide with so many Boomers leaving the workforce. A lot of lower-wage earners are moving up to fill these vacancies. But we’re working with Reedley College and talking to our different partners; there is definitely an effort to address those needs.”
COMING HOME, STAYING HOME
Valencia noted another key to Reedley’s economic health is the number of younger residents returning home.
“We’re seeing a change,” Valencia said. “At one point, people left home and went off to what they believed were greener pastures.”
During COVID, Valencia said he noticed how many people who were living in the Bay Area or Southern California came back after realizing what they had in the Central Valley. With that development, he noted there’s now a younger demographic of people who are back in the community and purchasing buildings downtown.
Because of this, Valencia said the reverse exodus of young people is also fueling the city’s economic fortunes.
“I think that’s why there’s this renaissance happening,” Valencia said. “You do have a lot of younger people who are getting involved because they’re living in the community, and they have the desire and the energy to make Reedley a great home for their families.”