The latest casualty of the economic downturn slipped away quietly.
Lon Goldstein closed his Big O Tires store, 826 W. Pacheco Blvd., during the weekend of Dec. 15. He declined to comment on why he closed the location or how many employees lost their jobs. Goldstein said it was his only store.
The 4,192-square-foot Big O Tire building, with a 564-square-foot mezzanine, sits on less than an acre, according to the Merced County Assessor's Office. The building is worth $424,482 and the land is valued at $452,780.
Big O joins Tutti Frutti Frozen Yogurt, Lowe's and the soon-to-close Pereira Jewelers as businesses leaving town. Fashion Bug is in the midst of closeout sales.
Community Development Director Paula Fitzgerald said it's unfortunate to lose a business in town, but said Los Banos' business climate is improving.
"It's definitely on an upswing," Fitzgerald said.
Not enough time had passed for Les Schwab Tires, which opened in September, to affect Big O Tires' business, she said. She speculated the closing to be due to more than just competition.
The Planning Department doesn't keep an active count on the number of empty storefronts, she said, but there are fewer than last year. Fitzgerald estimated downtown Los Banos has half as many empty locations as last year.
Some industrial locations on the east of town have been filled, Fitzgerald said. City Council gave Village Liquor & More of Hilmar permission Wednesday to move into a vacant building on Pacheco Boulevard. Plans are also on the books for two Dollar General stores, a joint McDonald's and am-pm and other projects that Fitzgerald would not specify. Walmart is also planning an expansion into a supercenter.
Empty locations can be a double-edged sword. While a ready-to-go storefront can attract a business owner with a new concept, Fitzgerald said, it can be a deterrent because business owners may see it as a bad sign.
Los Banos Chamber of Commerce President Geneva Brett said shopkeepers have differing opinions about a turnaround.
"There are signs of somewhat of a recovery," Brett said.
Shopping local, Brett said, would go a long way to aiding recovery. The money spent in mom-and-pop shops goes around the community several times, and money spent at local big-box stores generates tax revenue for the city.
Brett said it is important to remember shops out of town or online do not contribute to the local general fund, and local businesses take part in local charities.
"It's important no matter what the economy is, if you're shopping, shop local," she said.
Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at tmiller@losbanos
Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at tmiller@losbanos enterprise.com.