Coddingtown Mall losing merchants

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.

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