HANFORD — When it comes to the Costco shopping center, Sentinel readers aren’t shy about saying what they want to locate there.
When a story came out last month stating that the first additional businesses there will be Panda Express, a Subway and a Verizon store, with a Taco Bell likely to follow soon after, readers of the Sentinel’s Facebook page voiced their displeasure in dozens of comments.
“Hanford needs different restaurants,” said Tina Zamarripa.
“Hanford already has all these fast-food restaurants,” said Marina Castillo Krider. “How about an indoor activity place for kids?”
“We don’t need another Panda Express or Taco Bell, we need an Olive Garden, Tahoe Joe’s, Outback Steakhouse, Dave & Buster’s,” said Lorraine Daniel.
"Geez, can't we get something that we don't already have?” said Sara Kernek Enghusen. “We don't need three Taco Bells in Hanford!”
Welcome to the difficulty of attracting popular retailers and sit-down restaurants to Hanford.
Commercial real estate broker Michael Kennedy, who works for Fresno-based Retail California, is one of the agents tasked with recruiting businesses to fill out the 58 acres of shopping center space around Costco.
His take? It’s not going to happen overnight, and there are a number of obstacles.
“I think first off, our challenge is residential population immediately surrounding the site,” he said.
Literally, when developers look around from the Costco parking lot, they see virtually no residential subdivisions and neighborhoods in the immediate area.
It’s known in trade lingo as the “rooftop” issue.
“They like to see the [rooftops] there today,” Kennedy said. “That helps a lot.”
That’s why the Costco development calls for a phased-in growth over several years. Kennedy and others are hoping that more residential development occurs around Costco.
He’s also hoping that a high-speed rail stop will materialize near Costco in the next several years, and that the station will spur the kind of residential growth that makes his marketing job a lot easier.
Another key to understanding why it can be tough to attract certain businesses to the Costco center is the term “trade area.”
That refers to the geographical area from which a business draws its customers. It’s usually pictured as a circle on the map, with the business in the center.
The area the Hanford Costco pulls from is huge.
Kennedy said that west-to-east, they attract customers all the way from Coalinga to Highway 99.
“They look at a much larger trade area than Hanford,” he said. “They don’t have to necessarily be at a 12th-and-Lacey [location] in an area where all the rooftops are.”
Kennedy also talked about the competition that brick-and-mortar retailers face from consumers’ growing preference for online purchases.
He noted that parent company Sears Holding announced this week the closure of 150 Sears and Kmart locations, including Kmart stores in Kingsburg and Coalinga.
“I think the brick-and-mortar retailers, there are more challenges now with online shopping,” said Hanford Mayor David Ayers.
But what about popular sit-down restaurant Olive Garden, a name that pops up a lot in Sentinel reader comments?
Olive Garden officials declined a request from the Sentinel to explain what factors they consider when deciding whether or not to locate somewhere.
“Unfortunately we don’t share any specific site criteria, and our team uses a number of factors to select future Olive Garden sites,” Olive Garden Spokeswoman Jessica Dinon said in an emailed statement.
Kennedy said Olive Garden “pulls from a larger trade area” than Applebee’s and Chili’s.
“[Olive Garden] isn’t easy to sell to,” Kennedy said. “They’ve got their metrics. If things don’t fit in, they typically won’t vary.”
Kennedy said that in a smaller town like Hanford, just getting mid-to-large retailers to notice can be difficult.
“We’re going to get the Panda Expresses and the Starbucks, because they [want] to go everywhere,” he said. “Dave & Buster’s, Olive Garden, they do the bigger markets first.”