After a miserable holiday shopping season, the delay of the new Whole Foods Market and questions about the viability of key department stores, several Coddingtown Mall merchants are starting off the new year by heading for the exits.
At least a half-dozen small retailers at Coddingtown have either closed in recent weeks or plan to close soon, according to interviews with merchants.
?There aren?t too many happy campers there right now,? said Ray Schofield, owner of Toys West, which is closing this week after being at the mall since 1997.
Schofield and his wife, Sharon, plan to continue running their Petaluma store, betting the Petaluma market will bounce back more quickly than Santa Rosa once the recovery arrives.
Four employees are getting laid off at the Coddingtown store, and two at the Petaluma location as Schofield and his wife return to work that store themselves.
?I told all my kids, ?Don?t get into retail,? Schofield said.
The immensity of the problems facing the nation?s retail sector were laid bare Thursday when the International Council of Shopping Centers reported same-store sales fell 2.2 percent in November and December ? the weakest holiday shopping season in at least four decades.
Coddingtown Mall manager Laura Kozup said it is common for malls to have turnover at the end of the year, but admits this year is different.
?It?s a little worse than normal, but it?s very typical,? Kozup said. ?With the economy, there are businesses that are struggling, but we?re moving forward.?
While the weak economy is certainly a factor in the exodus, several merchants said they doubt the long-delayed upgrades to the mall will materialize anytime soon.
A major renovation to the mall has been promised since 2005, when Codding Enterprises sold a 50 percent stake in the mall to Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group, the nation?s largest mall owner.
Simon has been unable to get any new major retailers to open in the mall since.
?It doesn?t seem like (the mall owners) have a clear vision, and that uncertainty is driving people away,? said Rick Mariani, owner of Wolf Coffee.
Mariani is trying to sell the cafe, and hopes to wrap up the transaction soon, he said. If all goes well, new owners will reopen a new cafe in the same location, he said.
But that?s atypical. In most cases, owners aren?t selling their businesses but shuttering them entirely. And there are no signs anyone?s lining up to take their places. Accents jewelry shop, Mystic Dance gift shop, and The Sock Spot all closed when their leases expired at the end of the year, Kozup said.
Two other short-term holiday retailers also recently vacated storefronts that until last year were home to Scrap Attack scrapbook store and shoe merchant Two Shoes, Kozup said.
In addition, jewelry store Earthworks is going out of business, joining Vision Center, Hot Dog City and Skate Works, all of which closed last year and remain shuttered. All told, there are 15 storefronts that are either empty or in the process of going out of business at the mall, according to a review by The Press Democrat.
Kozup declined to provide a vacancy rate or the number of retailers who remain at the mall.