Crowd packs opening of Modesto's remodeled Forever 21

(Debbie Noda/dnoda@modbee.com)
The door opened at 10am and the first of the lineup went inside.  Over a 1,000 came for the grand opening of Forever 21 at the Vintage Faire Mall (8-20-11).
(Debbie Noda/dnoda@modbee.com) The door opened at 10am and the first of the lineup went inside. Over a 1,000 came for the grand opening of Forever 21 at the Vintage Faire Mall (8-20-11). Modesto Bee

Anyone in search of reassurance that commerce isn't dead needed only to look outside Vintage Faire Mall on Saturday morning.

A line of close to 1,000 people stretched around the front of the mall, winding through the Village and over to Sears on the east side. The crowd, predominantly young women but with some guys and older folks sprinkled in, arrived starting in the wee hours of the morning for the reopening of clothing retailer Forever 21.

"We've been here since 1 o'clock," said Lucele Guzman, 24. She stood at the front of the line with her sister, Lucero Guzman, 18, and Lucele's husband, Oscarina Reyna, 24.

The three Modestans sat in their car waiting to be allowed to get in line at about 6 a.m.

"It was a lot of Rock Stars (energy drinks)," Lucele said.

The Guzmans said they've been shopping at H&M since Forever 21 closed in February for a remodeling project. But they've been waiting for their favorite store to reopen.

"I miss this store," Lucele Guzman said. "I always find something here," her sister added.

Forever 21, based in Los Angeles, moved into the three-story Gottschalks store in the mall's south anchor spot two years ago. The store specializes in low-priced, trendy clothes, and took over a number of the sites once occupied by the Fresno-based retailer.

Only the first two floors had been opened to customers; with the remodeling project, all three floors, covering 154,000 square feet,carry merchandise. Bright lights, chandeliers and gold-embossed mirrors decorate the interior, with pounding peppy music blaring from the speakers.

Vintage Faire senior marketing manager Janice Curtin said that to say shoppers eagerly anticipated Forever 21's reopening would be an understatement.

"We've been getting questions about them every single day," she said.

As for the store's performance since it opened in 2001 in a much smaller site, Curtin said the mall has been very pleased. "It's almost a destination retailer."

Curtin said Forever 21 has a magic formula with its fashionable clothes and low prices.

"They're a hot retailer right now," she said. "Their customers buy a lot and they buy it often."

Overall, the mall has been doing well, despite the slow economy, Curtin said. With the Men's Wearhouse completing the move to the outdoor shopping area, the Village at Vintage Faire is one spot away from being full. Chico's, another clothing retailer, opened recently, and Charming Charlie, an accessories shop, will open in the next week or two.

"It's really become the area we imagined it would be when we built it in 2008," Curtin said. Though the timing could have been risky — 2008 is considered the height of the recession — the gamble has worked out.

"We didn't end up having everybody we thought we were going to get (at the beginning)," Curtin said. But the retailers and restaurants that have come in are enjoying success.

On Saturday, though, the attention was on Forever 21. The line to get in was long but orderly, overseen by additional security brought in by the store. Shoppers, many clad in acid-washed denim or maxi dresses and with feathers adorning their hair, entered 10 at a time, picking up gift cards and making their way to the displays of neon shirts, plaid skirts and denim of all washes.

Janelle Garcia, 24, and her friend Anna Padilla, 23, joined the throng.

"We got here about 4:30 (a.m.)," Garcia said. A stay-at-home mom to an 18-month-old, she said she's been waiting for the store to reopen and hadn't done much shopping while it was closed. "They have a lot of varieties here," she said.

Padilla, a florist agreed.

"They have all sorts of styles, and you can get the shoes and accessories," she said. "And it's inexpensive."

Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at (209) 578-2343.