TURLOCK -- Shoppers in the downtown area have gotten used to a familiar sight: "grand opening" signs.
The historic downtown district has had a flurry of new shops open and an increase in local ownership of properties in the past year. Dana McGarry, administrator of the Downtown Turlock Property Owners Association, said vacancy in the district is about 10 percent, down from the high of 15 percent to 20 percent during the recession.
New shop owner Beverly Willis said she was attracted to downtown Turlock because of its high foot traffic and community feel. She said she'd been deciding on locations in the area for a while before making the leap to open her store.
"For a while, it seemed like there were a lot of vacancies. I was like, 'I have a lot of choice.' But it kept filling up," Willis said. "That helped my decision. I noticed people were moving in and it was encouraging."
Her combined coffee shop and bookstore opened last week on North Center Street. It is joined by new businesses such as Lisa's Cookie Jar, eCosway and Treasure Hunters, which opened this year. Other now-popular spots such as the Dust Bowl Tap Room and La Mo restaurants opened a little over a year ago downtown.
But new businesses aren't the only ones attracted to downtown. McGarry said local property owners have been showing more interest in the district as well.
Of the 55 properties in Turlock's downtown, only nine are owned by people living outside the local area. More than 70 percent are owned by Turlock residents.
McGarry said that 10 years ago, the area had a much higher rate of absentee owners.
"More local owners translates into constant recycling of money that rolls in and out of the businesses and community," McGarry said. "These people are committed to their community and invested in their community. It's the happiest thing that could happen for downtown."
Among the downtown properties recently purchased by local owners are the Berg and Enterprise buildings on West Main Street. Turlock-based Brownstone Equities took over earlier this year and plans to improve them.
Turlock Mayor John La- zar said he believes the downtown district has turned the corner from the recession and is experiencing a revival. Local ownership of buildings is an important component to that renewal.
"There are some issues that require people with a heart for Turlock to come to the table and invest," he said. "When you have absentee owners, they don't have that perspective. It's more of just an investment."
Lazar said public investments downtown, such as City Hall and the under construction public safety center, have helped. Events such as the farmers market, now in its second year, and annual parades increase foot traffic and remind people what the area has to offer.
"Downtown Turlock has a lot of charm and character," he said. "We have a lot of well-kept secrets in the downtown."
Still, the district hasn't bounced all the way back from its pre-recession days, when vacancy in the area was less than 5 percent, McGarry said.
But business people such as Cindy Hoffman, who co-owns the new Treasure Hunters on Main Street with her husband and son, said they're confident the area will grow and thrive.
"Downtown Turlock is becoming a vibrant, booming business place," she said. "We're constantly seeing new customers. There are people walking around and eating. It's a very bustling place, that's why we chose it."
Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2284. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ TurlockNow.