After 37 years, Friedman's Home Improvement will return May 9 to Petaluma, where the family-owned company began, Barry Friedman, president and CEO, said Wednesday.

"There's a lot of symbolism in this store," Friedman told a group of 900 guests invited to preview the company's new store on the city's east side. "Look what we came back to Petaluma with. Our best years are yet to come."

Harry Friedman, Barry Friedman's great-uncle, recounted how his brothers Benny and Joe opened their first store in Petaluma in 1946 with $4,000. By 1976, their East Washington Street building deteriorating, the brothers left to focus on their Santa Rosa store, which opened in 1971. But they had always planned to return to Petaluma, Harry Friedman said.

"Petaluma, thank you for leaving the light on for us," he said. "You will not be disappointed."

The event, featuring catered food, beer from Petaluma brewer Lagunitas and live music from Pat Jordan, showcased the 80,000-square-foot store in the new Deer Creek Village.

Construction on Friedman's, the anchor tenant of Petaluma's second-largest shopping center, began last year at North McDowell Boulevard and Rainier Avenue. The store includes a 35,000-square-foot lumber shed.

In all, Deer Creek Village will have 344,000 square feet of retail and mixed-used space and about 6 acres of open space, wetlands and trails.

The front of Friedman's has two "living walls" covered in live greenery that will be fed and watered automatically, changing with the seasons. Two similar 16-foot walls will bracket the entrance to the 20,000-square-foot nursery.

Guests of the Wednesday event included local politicians and business leaders as well as family of Friedman's team members. Notably absent was former CEO and president Bill Friedman, son of founder Benny who, in turn, passed the leadership of the company to his son, Barry, last year.

Bill Friedman, who remains chairman of the company's board, was in the hospital recovering from a respiratory infection, Barry Friedman said. Bill's wife, Suzie Friedman, spoke on his behalf.

"Returning to Petaluma was a dream of the founders of this company," she said. "Tonight I'm proud to say, 'Dad and Joe, we're home again.'"

Lowe's was originally planned as the anchor tenant of Deer Creek Village but pulled out in 2011 during a downsizing move, citing the city's slow planning pace.

City leaders said Wednesday that Friedman's is a good fit for Petaluma. It will add jobs and keep sales tax dollars in Petaluma, Mayor David Glass said.

"I'm thrilled that Friedman's has returned to Petaluma," he said. "It doesn't get more local."

Friedman's also has outlets in Sonoma and Ukiah. The Santa Rosa store is 100,000 square feet, while the Sonoma outlet, opened in 1993, is a quarter of that.

Other Deer Creek Village tenants will include Togo's, Habit Burger, Mary's Pizza Shack and City Sports Club.

San Francisco developer Merlone Geier Partners began working with the city in 2008 to develop the vacant property along Highway 101. The project faced stiff opposition from critics, and the developer ultimately paid $200,000 for additions to the project to mollify opponents.

Once the operation is fully leased, Deer Creek Village is projected to generate about $407,000 in annual sales tax revenue, according to a city environmental impact report.

Friedman's will be the first tenant to open when it welcomes the public on May 9. Mike Swallow, a Petaluma contractor who perused the kitchen and bath section on Wednesday, said he is looking forward to shopping at the store.

"You can't buy lumber in this town," he said. "Now I won't have to drive to Santa Rosa. It's nice it's not a big box store."

Phyllis Weathers of Rohnert Park, said she liked the layout of the new store.

"It's pretty awesome," she said. "I like how open it is. I like the newness of the store. It feels good."

Staff Writer Lori Carter contributed to this report. You can contact Staff Writer Matt Brown at 521-5206 or at matt.brown@pressdemocrat.com.