Merced businesses having tough times

MERCED — You lose some. You win some. And some are too close to call.

This year alone, some businesses have closed shop in central Merced because the dour economy has affected sales and foot traffic.

But almost as many new enterprises are hanging out their shingles, both downtown and elsewhere in Merced.

Some restaurant owners, such as Big Will Decker, blamed some of the shuttered doors in downtown Merced on the 18th Street construction project. The project took place between G and N streets on 18th Street and included Canal Street.

"It didn't kill just 18th Street, it killed downtown. Nobody had any place to park and it tanked already more than it was," said Decker, who closed Big Will's Sandwich Shop, on Main Street near N Street, in July.

He said he is still a silent partner in the new Big Mike's Sandwich Shop, in the same location, but said sales are weak.

"Sales were so bad, really bad," Decker said of his shop. "The economy here is tanking even more than it already tanked."

Frank Quintero, the city's director of economic development, said the 18th Street project never restricted access to the parking lots.

"Now foot traffic, it would have had an effect on, but those businesses directly fronting on 18th Street (would have been affected)," Quintero said. "Parking in front of the stores in 18th street definitely had an impact."

Along a stretch of West Main Street, businesses such as the Coffee Block and Off the Shelf Books closed in the past few months. Coffee Block opened last year, but closed about a month ago, said Sam Sangha, who ran the business but said he wasn't the owner.

Down the street, Off the Shelf opened in September 2010 and closed recently. Bishop's on the Square recently stopped selling its cocktails and twice-fried truffle fries because restaurateur Marshall Bishop got another job in New York City.

Sweet Temptations Bakery, owned by Amanda Bowers and Sun-Star online editor Brandon Bowers, closed in July. But Little Pink Boxes, a bakery owned by Samantha Yniguez, took its space and will offer custom cakes and cupcakes for sale.

Yniguez is a former advertising director of the Sun-Star. She plans to open the week of Oct. 10, about the same time as the Merced Art Hop to draw in more customers.

Marie Callender's Restaurant on V Street served its last piece of pie in June as the chain closed 13 California restaurants and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. A news release noted the weak economy has hurt business, with the housing crisis hitting hardest in markets where the company had the most restaurants, such as California and Florida.

But there is a silver lining for the city. Other restaurants and franchises will make Merced their home in the near future.

Black Bear Diner will move into Marie Callen- der's spot at 1435 V St. In July, Hobby Lobby, a crafts store chain, signed a lease to occupy the former Gottschalks building on West Olive Avenue. The store will open this month, Quintero said.

Mooyah Burgers, Fries, and Shakes, a burger chain, will open on Yosemite Avenue soon. On Main Street, in one of the retail locations in the Merced Theatre building, posters and drawings on the glass say Coffee Bandits, a coffee shop, is opening in the fall.

Along Main Street, a recording studio, I.N.A.M. Studios, opened in August, and during the summer Chiara's Creations, an accessories store, opened at 529 W. Main St. This month, Royal Icing, a baking supply store on M Street, also opened, according to Quintero.

There is an upcoming project in the old Office Max building on Highway 140, which closed down about three years ago, he said.