Empty storefronts in downtown Grass Valley signal tough retail landscape (MAP) | TheUnion.com

Empty storefronts in downtown Grass Valley signal tough retail landscape (MAP)

Recent visitors to downtown Grass Valley might have noticed an unusual number of vacant storefronts, especially along Mill Street, arguably downtown's most popular shopping thoroughfare.

But at least one building that has been vacant for a number of years is in escrow — and several new businesses are slated to open their doors in the near future.

"Right now, retail is tough," said Lisa Swarthout, a business owner on Mill Street who serves on Grass Valley's city council as well as on the board of the Grass Valley Downtown Association. "The whole landscape of retail has changed, because of Amazon and other online businesses."

Part of the mission of the downtown association is to work with property owners, she said, adding, "We are diligently pursuing every opportunity we see." Downtown Grass Valley has its own particular niche, Swarthout said.

“We’re not panicked about the (downtown) vacancies. We do have new businesses coming in.”

— Lisa Swarthout

"Our retail business really caters to locals," she said. "More than 90 percent of my business is local. We try to create a mix that encourages tourism, but also fills everyday needs."

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Growing issue?

As of the beginning of September, there were six empty storefronts on Mill Street.

Two of those — the former Jewells store at 141 Mill St., which closed in 2014, and 145 Mill St., which housed Tess' Kitchen Store at one time and then Kaos Clothing (Tess' remains open at its current location, 115 Mill St.) — have been "vacant by owner desire, pretty much," Swarthout said. "They haven't really tried to rent or market those spaces."

Four other Mill Street businesses closed much more recently.

The Owl closed its doors abruptly in August; the popular restaurant at 134 Mill St., which was purchased by Steve Graham in 2012, had existed in some form since the mid-1800s.

According to Swarthout, the building's owner is looking for another restaurant to open in the space.

The Nevada County Bank building at the corner of Bank and Mill streets is in escrow and is scheduled to close at the beginning of October, said Coldwell Banker Grass Roots realtor Jon Blinder.

Blinder declined to state the terms of the proposed sale or the buyer, however.

Future Generations baby store at 138 Mill St. closed its doors March 31; it had been open since 1990 and is being marketed by Collins Property Management.

"I've shown it quite a few times," said Betty Collins. She said one potential tenant expressed serious interest but ultimately backed away; she has no applications for the space currently.

New tenants on tap

Culture Shock Yogurt closed its 106 Mill St. location Sept. 5; Swarthout said she was confident that space would rent quickly.

Down on Bank Street, Trattoria Milano is set to close Sept. 17; no information was available as to potential new tenants. Gold Rush Burgers & BBQ, at 108 East Main St., has been closed for nearly two years with a rental sign currently hanging on the front door.

"We're not panicked about the (downtown) vacancies," Swarthout said. "We do have new businesses coming in."

Twisted Ale Tap House and Grille, in the long-abandoned space at 116 Neal St., is getting close to opening, with owner Craig Davis projecting the date at about a month out. Twisted Ale's website promises "30 taps of craft beer, local wines, and great food."

Right across the street, the restaurant space once occupied by KJ's Pizza is being revamped as Sourdough & Co., an eatery that specializes in sandwiches, soups and salads.

And Grass Valley Brewing Co. is projected to open by the end of the year at 141 E. Main St., Swarthout said.

To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, email lkellar@theunion.com or call 530-477-4236.

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