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This space for rent

The faces in Grass Valley and Nevada City’s downtowns are frequently changing.

A new coffee shop opens, a clothing store closes. Trendy establishments like wine tasting rooms have opened their doors even in the midst of the recession, a testament to the attractiveness of the downtown’s visibility, officials said.

“It’s been a struggle,” said Grass Valley Downtown Association Executive Director Howard Levine. “We look good right now, but Jim Fixx (the famed runner who died of a heart attack in the 1980s) looked good right up until he rolled over and died. We have some stores that are down but not out.”

Both Grass Valley and Nevada City have their share of out-of-business signs, including Aunika’s clothing store, set to close at the end of this month in downtown Grass Valley, and the recent loss of the Chief Crazy Horse Inn on Commercial Street, Nevada City, in early August.

“We have a couple vacancies that we’ve had for a while,” said Nevada City Chamber of Commerce Director Cathy Whittlesey. “It’s been tough on our merchants. I do still hear about it when they have a good weekend, but it hasn’t been very often.”

Grass Valley’s downtown has a vacancy of about 2 percent, Levine said. Part of what’s kept that number low is the addition of wine tasting rooms including Smith Vineyards and Avanguardia in the past year, said broker Lock Richards of Sperry Van Ness – Highland Commercial realty.

Those moves are a product of the economy.

Entrepreneurs “have really been taking advantage of the lower prices and getting into downtown,” Richards said. “It’s something they’ve wanted to do for a while, to get into town, because there are wineries all over the place.”

Over the past year, 80 percent of commercial sales are to owner-users, rather than to investors, Richards said.

“The financing can be very attractive for them,” he said. “They are taking advantage of good prices and the chance to secure their future expenses.”

Levine would like to add some retail – a bicycle shop and health food store, for example – and some medical services such as an optometrist, he said.

Likewise, Whittlesey is interested in more retail in Nevada City, she said.

“We’re known for our fine restaurants. I’m not sure we need any more of those,” she added.

Alternative medicine – chiropractors, acupuncturists and yoga studios – have gained a following during the recession, said Susie Richards, who handles commercial leases for Sperry Van Ness.

“It’s a market that’s very alive right now in spite of the recession, or maybe because of it,” Susie Richards said. “It’s really better for an area where there is more parking, but many of those owners are looking for smaller spaces that have the sort of visibility you find in downtown.”

Many businesses are chomping at the bit to get into the downtowns, but are prohibited from doing so due to their type of business, Susie Richards said. Professional services businesses are relegated to second-story office space, leaving the ground level to restaurants and retailers.

“There are attorneys who would love to move downtown for the visibility,” Susie Richards said. “There’s a lot of appeal to a lot of different markets, but the downtowns can’t accommodate them because of the (city) guidelines.”

To contact Staff Writer Kyle Magin, e-mail or call (530) 477-4239.

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