Although a pleasant breeze sweeps through northeast Bakersfield, the winds of change are harsh for Ruth Prado these days.
Prado, 76, has been selling Tupperware and Avon products at the East Hills Mall for more than a decade. Her business, The General Store, is one of the displaced retailers in the tomb-like mall.
On a wet Tuesday evening, Prado and family are packing up lotions, perfumes and other merchandise in preparation for the move to a store in Oildale. Many of the spaces in the mall are bare – locked tight, giving the building a post-apocalyptic feel. The business owner waxes nostalgic standing in the place that has been her second home.
“When the kids were little, it was the best mall in the world,” she said. “There was a buffeteria where you’d pay 10 cents per year for the kids – and we have six kids.”
Prado said she was in shock when she got a notice in January that they’d need to relocate. She says the mall has changed hands a number of times and they’ve learned not to panic.
“They’ve sold it at least five times and nothing’s ever happened,” she said.
But this time is different.
Last December Craig and Grant Carver of C & C Properties Inc. and Chris Hayden and Mark Shuman of MarkChris Investments purchased the property and are working with Senior Directors/Principals Duane Keathley and Vince Roche of Cushman & Wakefield along with Associate Director Josh Sherley and Administrator Kari Sturgeon to bring the project to life.
And they’re just getting started.
“The definitive site plan hasn’t been finalized,” said Sturgeon. “We are entertaining two different scenarios.”
Sturgeon says the Harris-Gottschalks building will stay in both of the current plans, but they’ll demolish the rest and build an open-air facility. The second option provides for two of the current anchor buildings to remain.
“Either scenario will include beautiful movie theaters, a fountain and pedestrian-friendly areas,” she said.
According to Sturgeon, northeast Bakersfield is underserved in terms of retail, and tenants are excited to come to town.
“We have major retailers who say, ‘We have been waiting for this for years,’” she said. “The interest has really been encouraging; we believe we will get this leased quickly.”
Some neighbors are also pretty jazzed. GameStop manager Monique Ruby, 26, said she believes the increase in traffic from the new stores will bring more folks into their adjacent store. Brian Melgar, 23, a guest adviser echoed Ruby. He said he’s hoping for bigger and better merchants in the new facility.
“If we had better stores and atmosphere, I would never go across town to Valley Plaza,” he said.
In the meantime, Prado and a host of other owners are on the move. She said they must vacate the buildings by early March, and she’s stressed. Although she suffers with diabetes and heart problems, she worries most about her husband, Henry, 80, who has “a little bit of Alzheimer’s.”
Ruth said: “Change is hard for him.”