In the past few weeks, I’ve had a few people mention to me recent changes at McHenry Village. The first of these folks was former Bee editor Mark Vasché, ever the newsman. Last week, my friend and colleague Joan Barnett Lee and I headed toward the intersection of McHenry and Briggsmore avenues to take a look. The venerable shopping center indeed is thriving, with a number of new businesses filling high-profile slots.
I am not quite old enough to remember when McHenry Village opened in 1953. But I do remember going with my folks to Dunlap’s department store and the little pet shop where the owner always counted back change as if it was hundreds instead of pennies. Though much has changed since then, with shops closing and opening, the sense of nostalgia remains. And as I walked around, listening to the strains of Sinatra’s “The Way You Look Tonight” playing through the speakers, I tried to put my finger on what it was.
Then a shopper approached, gave me a quick smile and a friendly “Hello,” and I had it. You don’t get that kind of interaction from people at most malls or shopping centers.
“It’s a nice place for customers to come into,” said Sam Jennings, co-owner of Edwards Jewelers. Edwards has called McHenry Village home for 19 years, after moving from Century Center and, before that, its original location on Yosemite Boulevard.
Property administrator Jennifer Chimerofsky said business has been booming, with a 90 percent occupancy rate, up roughly 20 percent from just a year ago. Though some businesses have closed – Beardsley’s Book and Bible is among the recent absences – others have stepped in, with newcomers such as Shoes That Fit and Gifts of Faith joining longtime tenants that include Keller’s, Vision Works Optometry and Salon Salon.
Another newbie is La Parilla Mexican restaurant, the third site for the restaurant that started on Oakdale Road in 1999 before expanding to Riverbank in 2006.
“We picked McHenry Village for several reasons,” owner Yaser Herrera said in an email, citing the great central location. “It was also one of the few spots that had a space open that was big enough for our vision of an upscale, modern Mexican restaurant. We wanted to avoid what I call the three C’s of Mexican restaurants – cowboys, cactus and Corona signs – and give people another vision of what a Mexican restaurant could look like.”
By all accounts, the site selection is a good one – several people I spoke with said La Parilla has been crowded since it opened Dec. 26.
Remodeling work is underway in another high-profile spot, the former site of Valley Sporting Goods. That’s where Juline School of Dance will be consolidating all five of its far-flung locations into one spot, set to open this spring. Dance classes bring parents and siblings of students with time to kill, who might shop or eat out before, during or after class.
It’s part of a move toward attracting a younger shopper while maintaining goods and services for the center’s longtime clientele, Chimerofsky said. Several events, including Taste of McHenry Village and an annual car show, grow each year.
“McHenry Village for a long time probably catered to an older crowd,” she said. New shops such as clothing stores Envy and Christina’s skew younger. “We can cater to all different ages, which is really nice.”
Edwards co-owner Jennings agreed. “We have a lot of diversity,” he said, adding that the one thing each McHenry Village business has in common is customer service. Indeed, he insisted on cleaning my wedding ring while we visited – the ring, which belonged to my grandmother, now looks brand-new. “This is still a very thriving center. There are a lot of independents, not chains. You’ve got stuff here you’re not going to find anywhere else.”
Including, as I found, friendly shoppers who take the time so say hello.