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Tracy Barbutes/Modesto Bee/

People line up for interviews at a Modesto Hobby Lobby in 2011. Bakersfield's store is to open soon.

The former Mervyns building on California Avenue is getting its first tenant in nearly five years: a crafts store.

Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby has signed a lease to occupy about 55,000 square feet on the southern portion of the building, or roughly half its floor space, said the landlord's representative in Bakersfield, commercial real estate broker Anthony Olivieri.

News of the lease, which Olivieri said was executed Tuesday, sheds light on what the future may hold for an important piece of real estate in what had been a busy shopping area until Mervyns' 2008 closure.

It also appears to end speculation that the building will be torn down to make way for a major retailer.

"The first thing is that the rumor that Walmart is tearing down the building is not -- definitely not -- the case," Olivieri said.

He said the building's Florida-based owners are in active negotiations with another possible tenant that would occupy the rest of the building.

"Hopefully we'll have a firmer transaction that we can rely on in the next two to three weeks," he said.

Hobby Lobby has 12 stores in California; the nearest is in Visalia. The chain boasts more than 500 locations in 46 states.

Olivieri, owner of Olivieri Commercial Group Inc., said the landlord has begun clearing the building's interior; that work is scheduled to be finished within about two weeks.

"Their target is to be open for the holiday season," he said. "That's (Hobby Lobby's) goal." He added that Bakersfield is a "good fit" for the chain because of the city's demographics.

A company representative said Hobby Lobby employs 25 to 30 employees per store.

"Our store has a wide variety of departments, including crafts, hobbies, picture framing, jewelry making, fashion fabrics, floral, cards and party, baskets, wearable art, home accents and holiday supplies, all at affordable prices," spokeswoman Mandi Broadfoot wrote. "We look forward to (serving) Bakersfield residents, and we are excited to become part of the community."