Mercantile Row restoration inches along El Monte
Dinuba city staff works to bring economic activity and further development to the east side of the city, mirroring development on the west side
DINUBA – After years of empty storefronts, Mercantile Row along East El Monte Way will see an influx of commercial activity by early 2024.
Two chain retailers, Ross Dress for Less and Superior Grocers, have been working with the city of Dinuba to bring their services to the area, and more businesses are set to follow. Dinuba City Councilmember Kuldip Thusu said the entire shopping center should be completely full by this time next year — a goal of the city council since at least 2014.
“This has been a work in progress; eastside development has been very important for a long time,” Thusu said.
Mercantile Row, which sits on the far east side of the city between Randle Road and Road 92, has lost multiple stores in the last 15 to 20 years, including Save Mart, Rite Aid and Kmart. Despite local shops and restaurants in the area that have remained open, the vast parking lot built for a bustling shopping center is often devoid of customers.
With Ross, Superior Grocers and Sequoia Foods filling in the larger spaces, the city hopes the space will become more of a destination for its residents and those coming in from smaller communities in the area.
Thusu said it took a lot of hard work on behalf of city staff and community partners to get to where they are now. The city has had the area marked for economic development for years, putting together multiple questionnaires, a needs-assessment plan and an eastside revitalization plan to get the shopping center back up and running.
“We sat down and figured out what all is needed, what are the best fits and how we can sustain it for a long period of time,” Thusu said.
City staff attended retail-focused conferences to source businesses that would want to come to Dinuba and worked with those businesses to fast-track permitting and inspection processes to bring these options to consumers in the area, Thusu said.
Thusu said he could think of a plethora of benefits derived from the development happening at Mercantile Row. Not only will the shopping center bring more options to consumers, it will create local job opportunities and increase tax revenue brought into the city. He said it can also lead to improved infrastructure and safety in the area and higher property values.
Additionally, by having multiple anchor stores, Thusu said the shopping center will see increased tourism and foot traffic, benefiting the smaller businesses that are also in the space.
“The big Walmart (on West El Monte Way) has 30,000 people coming in and out of it every month,” Thusu said. “With Superior and Ross, we expect tourism and foot traffic to increase.”
Thanks to corporate social responsibility initiatives that chain stores take on, Thusu said he hopes to see more community engagement in the shopping center and more educational opportunities and partnerships between the businesses and schools in Dinuba.
With more diverse shopping options on the east side of town, Thusu said local consumers “will no longer have to travel far, and hopefully in the future we will be able to bring them more (options).”
Thusu said he believes that the shopping availability and proximity Mercantile Row will bring to the unincorporated communities of Monson, Sultana and Cutler-Orosi will bring in revenue to Dinuba as well.
The future of Mercantile Row
Ross Dress for Less is a chain that sells discounted brand-name clothing and housewares. It currently has locations in Selma, Visalia and Fresno, making the Dinuba location, which will be at 2200 East El Monte Way, a more central option for shoppers in the surrounding area.
Independently-owned grocery store chain Superior Grocers will move into the space at 2150 East El Monte Way. Superior boasts its “quality, variety and value,” and in addition to produce, meat and bakery departments, the chain has a tortilleria and deli, hot foods and floral departments.
Tom Finn, vice president for marketing and merchandising at Superior Grocers, said the Dinuba location should open in mid-December, just in time for the holiday season. The exact opening date will be finalized and announced near the beginning of November.
This will become the southern California-based company’s second location north of Bakersfield after a Superior Grocers opened in Tulare last December. Finn said the chain saw an opportunity to bring the Dinuba community the “Superior difference” and sees it as good for both the consumer and the company.
“It’s going to be an experience that I think all the community will really appreciate,” Finn said. “We’re looking forward to being a part of the community, (and) I think we bring something special to the city.”
More information about job opportunities at the new location will be announced online and through advertising at the location in November, Finn said.
Thusu said a second Starbucks location is also being planned for the area, and an office where people can access social services provided by Tulare County will open in the next 12 to 18 months.
The east side of the city is not the only place Thusu wants to see economic development, he said. However, to develop a small town like Dinuba means taking into consideration the city’s infrastructure capacity and the desire to keep the town’s character intact.
“The city owns a lot of land around town and we intend to develop every inch of it,” Thusu said. “(Development) has to blend with our needs and it has to blend with our culture. It has to blend with the very fabric of our beautiful town.”
In order to attract some bigger businesses, the city also has to have more housing developments. Many stores will not come to an area unless it has a specific number of rooftops, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the city wants to expand just to bring in certain businesses.
“The most important thing is as the city is growing, we will have to increase our infrastructure,” Thusu said. “When the homes increase and businesses increase, the two most important things we do is make sure our water and sewer infrastructure is large enough and big enough to sustain growth.”
The city is also working to find a balance between bringing in bigger businesses that fill in commercial gaps and keep consumers shopping in Dinuba while supporting local businesses.
“Whatever is good for the consumer is good for the city and is good for the local business,” Thusu said.