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New store, new optimism at Santa Rosa Plaza

  • Romajean Flyswithhawks, right, looks at a pair of hot pink heels while shopping at Forever 21 with Trey Wilkins in Santa Rosa Plaza on Tuesday, November 23, 2010.

With techno music thumping in the background, shoppers weaved between racks of lacy black tops, chic shift dresses and chunky belts Tuesday at Forever 21 in downtown Santa Rosa.

The affordably priced mecca for young fashionistas had just opened its new 44,000-square-foot store, which fills the hole left when Mervyns closed nearly two years ago.

It represents one of the largest retail openings in Santa Rosa in recent years, offering a glimmer of hope as retailers head into their busiest shopping season of the year.

New Forever 21 Opens In Santa Rosa Plaza

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"Over the last several years we've had more stores close than open," said Ben Stone, executive director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board.

"I think it's a vote of confidence in the mall. It will help bring traffic back, which helps general retail sales for Santa Rosa. It helps keep the mall relevant and fresh."

Store manager Denny Howe said customers were lined up outside the store when its doors opened early Tuesday afternoon.

"It's been fantastic," Howe said. "They have been waiting for us to open for quite a while."

The Forever 21 chain already operates a smaller store in the Santa Rosa Plaza, but it will be closed as the company expands into a space seven times larger that Mervyns vacated. The new venue is about the same size as the Los Angeles-based chain's flagship store in Pasadena.

"I think it was important to fill that space. It was a large empty space," said Jonathan Coe, president and chief executive officer of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce.

"In some sense, Forever 21 starts to fill the need for an anchor, for a draw that will bring people downtown to the Plaza and perhaps to shop in other stores in the area."


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