Forever 21 returning to Riverside Plaza while Harris’ building being remodeled

fe2171213.jpgFear not fans of Forever 21.  After nearly a year-long departure from the Riverside Plaza a new Forever 21 is set to open in about two weeks.   It will be located in what was once the Borders bookstore, according to the plaza website.

The space is roughly 30,000 square feet, and is scheduled to be ready for Forever 21 by the end of the month.

Forever 21 had previously set up shop in the former Gottschhalks, which was once the locally-famed Harris’ Department Store.

Despite the many physical incarnations of the plaza, the Harris’ building is the last structure to survive the original footprint of the plaza, which opened in 1953.harrisremodel.jpg

Whatever is to become of the former Harris’ building is the subject of much speculation.  For about a year the plaza has been owned by Vestar, which is based in Phoenix, Arizona.

The plaza was previously owned in large part by a company based in Chicago, with a minority part of the plaza owned by an interest in Southern California.

What is known is that the building is undergoing a massive reconfiguration.

hconstruct71213.jpgOne plan (pictured above) shows an outdoor staircase, facing Central Avenue, that would lead to the upper floors.

Pictures of the current construction suggest the escalator in the center of the building has been removed.

It’s widely speculated that the interior is being cut into smaller sections which would make it more marketable to retailers that don’t require the hulking three-floor design that was Harris’– the original company found success selling clothing, jewelry, cosmetics and furniture.

Harris’ was later acquired by a company based in Spain, and in 1998 it was purchased by Gottschalks, which was based in Fresno since 1904.

For Fresno consumers Gottschalks was the equivalent of Harris’ in reputation and quality.

Gottschalks struggled under the economy, and filed for bankruptcy protection in January 2009.  By March it was clear Gottschalks would not return, and its assets withered away in liquidation sales.   Locally this left a massive hole in local retail at the Riverside Plaza.2012-01-03-mazz-image01.jpg

Even with numerous empty spaces the plaza’s Main Street found new life with Mazz Bar & Grill which opened adjacent to the theater.  Mazz prevented the plaza from suffering another dining vacancy after the departure of Citrus City Grille.

Vestar is approaching its first year as owner of the Riverside Plaza.  And it’s clear that massive retail has been attacked by internet commerce, and the habits of consumers, which are fickle.

Aside from an exact revelation about what will fill the former Harris’ building, don’t forget about Spoons Bar and Grill.  It was forced into bankruptcy, when parent company Spectrum Restaurant Group collapsed.   The Riverside location closed in December 2006, and has remained boarded up and empty along Central Avenue.

Related news:  Watch, the Riverside Plaza is full of local memories.vintageplaza444.jpg

Vestar, and the previous owner, used the space upstairs as offices for plaza management.  Vestar recently moved that office to a vacant space on the West of the plaza property, near Chico’s.   A barber shop that was in the building has also moved.

Perhaps this is a sign that the Spoons building is nearing demolition.  If so it would be another show of determination by Vestar.  Combined with the work being done on the Harris’ building, and the new Forever 21, and the retention of Mazz Bar & Grill many Riversiders would suggest we’re seeing a long-overdue facelift.

If this includes a mix of local and national business investment it has to be a win for Riverside, and an evolution for the plaza, which has consistently stepped into vogue, and out of it.

Related news:  The opening of Mazz Bar & Grill.

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Saturday, July 13, 2013

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