It can’t be good for Modesto that as it’s trying to jump-start its downtown, one of the longtime businesses leaves.
That’s what happened this month when Dittos Print – and its 15 employees – moved about three miles away to the McHenry Village shopping center over the Labor Day weekend.
General Manager Brad Braillard said relocating was not an easy decision for the company’s owners. He said they had been thinking of moving for about a year. “We didn’t want to,” he said. “We really liked that spot.”
He said the reasons for leaving include the perception among customers that they could not find parking downtown. Braillard said there is a fair amount of parking, and Dittos validated parking, but the perception stuck. He added that parking is not a problem at McHenry Village.
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Dittos also wants to expand the retail side of its business. It doesn’t matter too much where Dittos is for its commercial accounts because much of that work can be done digitally. But Braillard said location matters for the retail trade, such as the parents who come in to make a birthday poster for their son, or the businesswoman who needs a dozen copies of her presentation.
He said it’s easier for Dittos to draw retail customers at McHenry Village because of the convenience of getting a lot of their shopping and errands done at one place. Customers also can buy groceries, fill a prescription, get their hair cut, take a yoga class and even buy a bicycle, to name just some of their options. They can’t do that downtown.
Some people have said the reason behind downtown’s high vacancy rate is that landlords won’t reduce their rents and make the storefronts affordable. Braillard said Dittos was not facing a rent increase if it stayed, but he added that the rent is less at McHenry Village.
Stanislaus County and Modesto officials were not happy about Dittos’ departure. The business had occupied part of the ground floor of Tenth Street Place – the city-county administration center – since 2001. Braillard said that made it convenient for government workers. He added that government officials did not like the prospect of another empty downtown storefront.
Modesto officials are working hard to revitalize downtown through such efforts as an incentive program to lure certain types of businesses, such as professional offices and bookstores. Braillard thinks the bigger issue is the rents are too high. But he hopes Civic Partners – Dittos’ former landlord – finds a tenant soon. “That spot is awesome,” he said. “I hope they fill it.”
Civic Partners founder and CEO Steve Semingson said the vacancy rate for his company’s downtown properties is about 30 percent, and it’s been that way for a few years.
But he added that he is optimistic about the prospects of finding a new tenant for the site Dittos held for more than a decade. “That’s our most attractive space,” he said. Semingson added that Civic Partners does everything it can to keep its rents competitive and is creative in working out deals that benefit it and its tenants.
In other downtown news, as part of their annual cultural diversity week, the city and county will hold their cultural diversity celebration Wednesday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the plaza in front of Tenth Street Place.
The public event will include food trucks, dancers, information booths and a free raffle drawing. Officials say the celebration will be bigger than the ones held in previous years.