Downtown Turlock hears wedding bells

TURLOCK -- With slogans such as "The place to go for all your wedding needs" or "Old, New, Borrowed, Blue, Turlock Main Street," the Downtown Property Owners Association is backing an aggressive plan to rebrand its realm as the wedding capital of California.

The association hired Seattle-based Destination Development to create a branding, development and marketing plan that pitches realigning downtown with an emphasis on wedding shoppers.

There are more than 220,000 weddings every year in California and the average wedding party spends thousands of dollars on the affair. They need dresses, jewelry, flowers and myriad other "big day" essentials, said Roger Brooks of Destination Development.

"We think, in three years, Turlock can be a major destination in the state of California," he said.

The plan emphasizes a new business mix downtown and financial incentives for wedding-centric retailers. The City Council will be asked to adopt the plan, but not contribute any money, Brooks said. Instead, building owners will need to improve facades according to the theme and reduce rates for applicable tenants. A large wedding dress retailer, for example, needs to open shop to anchor the theme, and rental space rates need to be slashed to get them here, Brooks said.

Tuxedo shops are in. Shoe repair, fast-food restaurants, accountants and tire shops are out.

"The biggest challenge will be rearranging the business mix," Brooks said. "Can you put the CPAs upstairs?"

Trina Walley, executive director of the property owners association, said her group will ask the City Council next month to fund an exploration study into the use of second-floor space downtown.

"We want to bring more business to our unique area down here," she said. "We want to see expanded use of our second floors."

The presentation was part of the Downtown Property Owners Association's annual meeting, held at On Broadway with Two Guys. Two Guys owners Stephen Backus and Ed Samo are in the middle of turning a side parking lot into an outdoor gazebo area for wedding ceremonies and bridal pictures.

"Saturday, four brides walked in wanting to get married in that outdoor venue," Backus told the consultants.

Tony Walker, owner of Wellington Station restaurant; Phil Rheinschild, general manager of the Turlock Poker Room; and Efren Avila, president of Universal Jewelers, all said they love the idea.

"Awesome idea!" Walker said. "Initially, I was a little skeptical, but if the businesses get behind it, it can work."

Avila, who leases his space on West Main Street, said the property owners are essential.

"They need a new idea," he said. "Fresh blood."

Other cities use wedding themes, Brooks told the 100-plus crowd. Redlands in California, Sedona in Arizona and Reading in Ohio are examples. Reading, Brooks said, can serve as a model for Turlock. It has more than 30 wedding retailers in three or four blocks.

It might take a little time for the idea to sink in. Before the wedding theme was announced, Brooks asked the group what they thought when they thought of Turlock. Half the group was silent; the other half said, "Turkeys!"

Bee staff writer Michael R. Shea can be reached at mshea@modbee.com or 578-2391.