Amazon Picks Central Valley Town for First Package Deliveries by Drone

Retailing giant Amazon announced Monday it picked a small town in the Central Valley near Stockton to be the first location for public drone deliveries. Deliveries to Lockeford, a town of 3,500 on State Route 88, would begin later this year. This would be the first time Amazon makes drone deliveries to the American public, and it follows several pilot projects by companies such as Walmart, United Parcel Service and FedEx. The online retailer said it was working with Federal Aviation Administration and local officials to secure permits. The drones will have the capability to fly beyond-line-of-sight and will be programmed to drop parcels in the backyards of customers. “Lockeford residents will play an important role in defining the future,” Amazon said. “Their feedback about Prime Air, with drones delivering packages in their backyards, will help us create a service that will safely scale to meet the needs of customers everywhere.” The company predicted that drone delivery “could one day become just as common as seeing an Amazon delivery van pull up outside your house.” Amazon made its first customer delivery by drone in the United Kingdom in 2016 and had touted its plans for drone delivery for years before that.

Owner of Save Mart, FoodMaxx brands sells to L.A. private equity firm

A Los Angeles private equity firm announced Monday it has acquired Central Valley grocery store owner The Save Mart Cos. Modesto-based Save Mart has about 200 stores in California and northern Nevada, including the Lucky California and FoodMaxx brands. It also operates a refrigerated transport company and is co-owner of a distribution center in Lathrop and a dairy processing plant in Turlock. Terms of Save Mart’s purchase by Kingswood Capital Management LP were not disclosed.

The Save Mart Cos. operates Save Mart and FoodMaxx stores in Kern County. It said in a news release the transaction will be transparent to customers and its 14,000 employees. In January 2021, Kingswood purchased Alameda-based Cost Plus World Market. It also owns a marine services business. “At Kingswood, our goal is to make good businesses even better, and The Save Mart Companies presents us with a great opportunity to do so,” Alex Wolf, Kingswood’s founder and managing partner, said in the same release. “Their 70 years of history in the Central Valley provides a strong foundation for future profitable growth, and we look forward to working with Chris and the team to position these iconic grocery brands for the future.”

Rail expansion at Castle expected to reduce supply chain issues, Merced County leaders say

At a time of shipping bottlenecks and supply chain shortages, Merced County leaders say expanded rail service at Castle Commerce Center will put Merced County in an advantageous economic position. The Merced County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a deal with Patriot Rail, a short line and regional freight railroad operator, which will lease 6,500 feet of track and related property and pay $1.2 million to increase rail capacity fluidity of shippers in the Castle rail district, according to a county news release. “This agreement is the culmination of years of market analysis and strategic planning,” said Lloyd Pereira, Board of Supervisors chairman, in the release. “Coupled with the autonomous vehicle testing happening at Castle, this is an exciting time for Merced County. We’re on the front end of job creation and economic development.”

The lease is part of the creation of a new rail district, according to county officials, and the lease to Patriot Rail is expected to make Merced County an even more prominent hub for freight rail movement. The deal enhances the ability of agricultural producers, manufacturers, and other businesses in the San Joaquin Valley to ship and receive products via the Burlington-Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad mainline. The BNSF mainline runs adjacent to the rail district, which is located on the southeast corner of the Castle Commerce Center.

A rail spur connects Castle to the BNSF lines and Patriot Rail will build more infrastructure to expand rail service there, the release said. The 20-year lease between Patriot Rail and Merced County has the potential for continued renewals at the discretion of company and county officials, the press release went on to say, and Patriot Rail will maintain the track. “Patriot Rail is pleased to advance and help drive Merced County’s vision of economic growth,” said John E. Fenton, CEO of Patriot Rail. “We are committed to providing service and safety excellence as a premier rail solutions provider, and to partnering with Merced County customers to ensure exciting new competitive options for shipments by rail to build business and grow jobs.” The expansion of rail service at Castle has not gone unnoticed in other economic hubs across the state. Officials at some of the busiest ports in the country herald this development as an opportunity not just for Merced County, but industry partners across the shipping industry. “This agreement will help make Central California a focal point to accelerate goods movement across our state and nation,” said Gene Seroka, executive director at the Port of Los Angeles.

Amazon to open ‘last mile’ warehouse in Fresno, bringing 550 jobs. Here’s what it will do

Online retail giant Amazon is expanding its sizable footprint in Fresno with plans to open a “last mile” warehouse in the eastern part of the city south of Fresno Yosemite International Airport. According to development plans and permit applications filed last year with the city, Seefried Industrial Properties is building a 183,000-square-foot warehouse that will serve as a delivery station – one final stop for packages before they are delivered to customers. The facility is reportedly expected to open in the second half of this year and will operate around the clock with as many as 550 employees.

The site covers about 43 acres at the southwest corner of Olive and Clovis avenues, near the former Sunnyside Drive-In movie theater. The old drive-in property is bounded on the south and west by the Amazon property, according to Fresno zoning maps. HIghway 180 runs along the south side of the Amazon site. Fresno City Councilmember Tyler Maxwell, whose Council District 4 included the site until newly redrawn districts took effect this year, confirmed to The Bee on Wednesday that the project was indeed being built for Amazon. From the time that the first development applications were filed almost a year ago, Maxwell said the nature of the project was kept “pretty hush hush” by both the developer and the city manager’s office.

“Trying to find out more information had been difficult,“ Maxwell said. “My staff had to dig to find out who was behind the fictitious business name, and of course it was Amazon.” In both development applications and in various building permit documents, the project has been described as a “warehouse and distribution facility” or “delivery station” amounting to about 161,000 square feet of warehouse space and about 22,000 square feet of offices and support space. “Delivery stations power the last mile of the tenant’s order fulfillment process and help speed up delivery for customers,” Seefried Industrial representatives stated in a permit application last year.

The developer noted that the site will have parking for more than 1,600 cars and vans, in addition to 12 trailer parking spaces. The building itself will include 17 loading-dock doors. Amazon opened a massive, 855,000-square-foot fulfillment center at the southern edge of Fresno in mid-2018, eventually ramping up its hiring to about 2,500 workers by last year. Since opening, construction has commenced on a nearby second large fulfillment center for Amazon, at 470,000 square feet, after the city of Fresno reached a settlement with residents who objected to the growing number of distribution centers in their south Fresno neighborhood. The company is also stepping up its partnerships with a cadre of “last mile” delivery partners – companies that contract with Amazon for delivery of packages to customers’ doors. The last-mile warehouses serve as an intermediate stop for packages between larger fulfillment centers and customers, providing a final sorting stop where drivers collect packages for delivery.


Car parts retailer AutoZone is the latest company to secure a distribution home in the Central Valley. The Tennessee-based company with more than 6,000 stores in the U.S. — 640 in California — announced Thursday afternoon its plans to build a $150 million distribution center in the Madera County town of Chowchilla. Construction would begin this coming summer with a targeted opening in 2024.

The distribution center would create at least 280 news jobs, according to an Auto Zone news release. It would occupy in phases 750,000 square feet of warehouse space in the Chowchilla Industrial Park with close access to Highway 99. Referred to as “Project Sunset” by city planners, the distribution center has been about a year and a half in the making, said Bobby Kahn, executive director of the Madera County Economic Development Commission.

The Auto Zone announcement was actually first made at the State of the County Luncheon in Madera hosted by the EDC Thursday afternoon. “There’s no better way to close an economic development event than with a major project announcement,” Kahn said. “The timing was remarkable.”

Amazon Signs 1M SF Distribution Center in California

Amazon has filled yet another major order. The king of online sales signed a lease for a 1 million-square-foot distribution center in Central California. It will be the anchor tenant at one of the largest industrial commerce complexes in the Western U.S., according to the landlord, Wonderful Real Estate. The massive industrial park is in the city of Shafter, bordering Bakersfield, and also includes major tenants like Walmart, Target, and Ross Stores.


Amazon opens in Visalia

Amazon is open and in full operation says the new general manager at the Visalia fulfillment center, Carlos Avelar. The 1.3 million square foot warehouse, the largest in the city, is on Riggin and Kelsey in the Visalia Industrial Park. “We have already hired nearly 1,000 on our way to 1,200 associates” said Avelar, adding they are “bringing on more employees than we originally anticipated.”

The original announcement said 1,000 jobs. Avelar said he moved his family to Visalia in July from Tracy where he had been manager for 2.5 years. ”The Central Valley has special place in my heart,” said Avelar, adding that he is looking forward to an open house soon, inviting local officials, and has already huddled with other industry managers at the industrial park to introduce himself. “We want to be part of the community,” he said.

The Visalia Amazon is different from any other Amazon in the Valley, being a “fulfillment center” that stores goods, mostly larger in size, to be shipped throughout the Valley. The closest similar facility is in Patterson, said Avelar. Within these fulfillment centers, associates pick, pack and ship larger-sized customer items ranging from boxes of diapers to patio umbrellas. “We picked Visalia to be close to our customers,” he said.

The next three months will be the busiest of the year for the big e-retailer says the general manager and at times they may add more than 1,200 to the workforce. Employees’ starting pay is at least $15.50 per hour and benefits including paid time off and dental care. New hires who show proof of their COVID-19 vaccination earn a $100 bonus on their first day. Avelar said employees appreciate the fact Amazon encourages associates to go to college and will pay to make it happen while they work here. Avelar said he “has heard the rumors” that there will be a second Amazon warehouse built in the industrial park — but for now ”it’s just that — a rumor.”

Ace Hardware Announces Large Distribution Center in Central California

Retailer-owned hardware cooperative Ace Hardware Corp., Oak Brook, IL, announced it plans to build a gigantic distribution center in Visalia, California. The new retail support center will occupy more than 1-million-square feet and bring more than 400 jobs to the area. The new facility will augment the company’s Rocklin, California — in the greater Sacramento area — and Prescott Valley, Arizona distribution centers and will be centrally located in California, between Sacramento and Los Angeles.

The new Visalia distribution center will serve more than 300 Ace affiliated stores. Ace’s network of global distribution facilities serve more than 5,500 retail locations. Construction is slated to begin later this year. Ace said the distribution center would be fully operational in early 2023. “Ace Hardware continuously evaluates distribution capabilities to ensure we meet our growing business demands and offer the best support and service to Ace retailers and our wholesale customers,” said Jeff Gooding, Corporate Vice President of Marketing, Ace Hardware. “Opening this new facility is essential for Ace to keep up with our historic growth and better serve our network of retailers, and ultimately, our Ace customers.”

The Visalia distribution center will feature new technology, a climate-controlled environment, and improved automation to help to help streamline and enhance operations. It will also include space for future expansions.

Hardware distribution company to hire 400 in Visalia

The “helpful hardware folks” say Visalia is the place for Ace … to build their distribution center. Illinois-based Ace Hardware, with its popular jingle “Ace is the place with the helpful hardware folks,” will open a 1 million square foot distribution center in Visalia in the next year. Developer Seefried Industries filed for a permit to build the complex on Aug. 6. The permit names Ace Hardware as the tenant. The permit is valued at $90 million with the contractor listed as Clayco who has built other projects for Seefried including the Amazon warehouse in Fresno.

Seefried had previously presented a detailed site-plan for the 81-acre property it is buying at Plaza Drive and Ferguson Avenue in the Visalia Industrial Park which stated the tenant would hire 400 employees working in two to three shifts. Seefried Western Manager Sean Sheppard confirmed the deal this week saying he hoped the warehouse would be open by October of next year. The news is further evidence the logistics industry has selected Visalia as one of the best places to reach California markets within a day’s drive, delivering goods overnight directly to customers in Southern California and the Bay Area.

This would be the 18th Ace distribution center in the U.S. with one in Sacramento. The new Visalia center will serve hundreds of Ace Hardware stores, including three in Tulare County. The company continues to expand with 11 new locations in California this year. The private company is a cooperative with an ownership stake by each local store. There are nearly 5,500 stories in the U.S. Visalia has a large store across from the Visalia Mall, Nelson’s Ace Hardware, in the former Orchard Supply Hardware. Other local Ace cooperatives include Exeter Mercantile Co., Dinuba Lumber Co. and Wiesenberger’s Ace Hardware in Porterville.

Phoenix-based Seefried’s operational statement filed in June, described a 1,033,180 square foot warehouse and distribution facility (+/-1,002,980 square feet of warehouse and +/-30,200 square feet of office) to be constructed on a 81.35 acre parcel located at the southwest corner of north Plaza Drive and west Ferguson Avenue. The parcel is the largest remaining open-space piece in the heart of the industrial park, formerly known as the Jacuzzi property. It has frontage on both Plaza and Goshen Avenue.

The square footage description filed in June exactly matches the permit request filed recently for Ace Hardware. While there has been no announcement (Amazon was quiet for many months), Ace will likely lease the new warehouse from the developer, as they have elsewhere.


The site can accommodate a future expansion of 356,160 square feet, which is not being contemplated for now, but would bring the total size of the facility to 1.4 million square feet. The design of the site provides 752 auto parking stalls (15 accessible per code) and 304 trailer stalls. The facility will be constructed to a height of 55 feet above current grade to accommodate a minimum clear height within the facility of 40 feet, and parapets around the perimeter to screen mechanical equipment on the roof. The facility will be fully conditioned with an Early Suppression, Fast Response (ESFR) fire sprinkler system and code required fire alarm system. Access will be provided through driveways off Plaza Drive, Fergusson Avenue and a private access road just south of the facility. Trucks will utilize Ferguson primarily and employees will utilize Plaza. There will be a main point of access to the facility off Plaza through the office area, with code required fire access around the perimeter.


The statement continues that this “facility will operate 24 hours, 7 days a week utilizing +/-400 employees in two (2) shifts (8:00 am-5:00 pm- DAY and 6:00 pm-4:00 am- NIGHTS). It is estimated that 280 employees will operate during the day shift, and 120 employees during the night shift.”

Ace Hardware successfully competes with rival big box hardware stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s reporting record fourth quarter revenues of $2.1 billion – an increase of 39.2 percent from last year and record fourth quarter net income of $43.1 million, an increase of $39.6 million from last year. Ace’s same store sales were up 28.7 percent during the quarter and 25.9 percent for the year. An Ace company report describes how US customers recently funneled a “disproportionate share of their discretionary spending into their homes and gardens” as the possible reason for the increase.

Founded in 1924 as “Ace Stores,” the company changed its name to “Ace Hardware Corporation” in 1931. After the retirement of longtime president and founder Richard Hesse in 1973, Ace was sold to its retailers, becoming a retailer-owned cooperative. It first reached $1 billion in wholesale sales in 1985 and $5 billion in 2015. The hardware store advertises itself as a neighborhood store featuring employees who, in contrast to big box help, offer caring assistance on do-it-yourself projects. A few years ago they changed their popular jingle from “Helpful hardware men” to “ hardware folks.”

Landing the large retailer is another huge catch for the Visalia Industrial Park which has recently seen the opening of the new UPS hub and the 1.2 million square foot Amazon fulfillment center to open this fall next door. And there is more to come. Work is expected to begin next month on another million square foot-plus, tilt-up building to the north of Amazon. With the addition of this $90 million permit, the city will have permitted over $100 million in new commercial projects in 2021 so far – on pace to exceed last year’s total of $182 million and 2.4 million square feet.

New construction near Grapevine highlights surge in local speculative development

Speculative development is picking up across Kern County’s industrial real estate industry, evident most recently in a large warehouse now under construction along Interstate 5 at the Tejon Ranch Commerce Center. As the latest joint venture between Lebec-based Tejon Ranch Co. and Southern California development titan Majestic Realty Co., the 629,274-square-foot distribution center-style project spreads across nearly 39 acres near the foot of The Grapevine. With 136 dock-high doors, it is expected to be ready for one or more tenants to move in within about a year.

The project is the latest in a growing trend of speculative development gaining momentum locally. Most of the buildings under construction are major undertakings measuring hundreds of thousands of square feet, but there are also some as small as 10,000 square feet — and that kind of building activity has not been seen in Kern for years. The developments are noteworthy not because they stand out in a landscape increasingly dotted with large warehouses, in a region that clearly benefits from a lack of available distribution space in Southern California. What’s more striking is the pace at which such investments are happening and the confidence they reflect on the part of developers.

Bakersfield industrial real estate broker Wayne Kress said investors have reacted with greater urgency during the last three years to the county’s central location offering the ability to reach 40 million consumers within a single day’s truck drive. Warehouse tenants in Kern can easily reach ports in Southern and Northern California, and they don’t have to deal with the congested market for industrial property in the traditional logistics hub of the Inland Empire. Kress, a principal at Cushman & Wakefield | Pacific Commercial Realty Advisors in Bakersfield, noted two “spec” developments 1 million square feet or larger under development in Shafter, one at the Wonderful Industrial Park and one next to it. Others are in the works locally as well but Kress said he was not at liberty to discuss them.

Local industrial broker Boyd Binninger, ASU Commercial’s senior vice president of industrial services, said demand is growing lately for smaller buildings as well. He pointed to two spec buildings where construction began about a month ago at the Silver Wings Commercial Center near Meadows Field Airport. One measures about 15,000 square feet, he said, and the other about 10,000 square feet. By his reckoning, it’s been about seven years or more since speculative development of that size took place in the Bakersfield area. “We hadn’t seen a lot of spec building with the exception of the big boys,” he said, adding the developer hopes to undertake additional spec development once the projects now underway lease up.

The tenants expected to fill those spaces will probably be in manufacturing or small distribution operations, he said. What has made such projects difficult, aside from the risk that comes with spec development, is recently high materials costs. Even so, he predicted more industrial development will take place near the airport as such projects gain momentum in the years ahead. Tejon Ranch Co.’s executive vice president of real estate, Joseph N. Rentfro, said in a news release it was very pleased to be working again with Majestic, reportedly the largest privately held industrial developer in the United States. The two companies first partnered in 2016 on a fully leased, 651,909-square-foot property they owned and managed together. Since then, they have spec-developed a 480,480-square-foot building and another measuring 579,040 square feet, both of which reportedly met with strong pre-lease activity and remain fully leased. The two companies’ latest joint venture is their largest spec project to date. “Given the historical success we’ve enjoyed without previous speculative building developments, the lack of vacant space within the Tejon Ranch Commerce Center and the level of demand inquiries we’re fielding for light manufacturing, warehouse and distribution space out of Southern California and elsewhere,” Rentfro stated, “we wanted to move as quickly as possible to bring another new building online.”

The commerce center near the merger of Interstate 5 and Highway 99 is a master-planned retail and industrial development spanning 1,450 acres. For its part, Majestic sees the latest partnership with Tejon Ranch as attractive to tenants seeking a low-cost option compared with the Los Angeles Basin, where it said costs related to living, labor and rentals are relatively high. It said the building will have 136 dock-high doors and a 36-foot clear height. “Beginning with our initial partnership agreement in 2016, we’ve remained incredibly bullish about Tejon Ranch and we’re excited to be breaking ground on our third new building with a partner that sees and is committed to implementing a development vision through the same long-term lens,” Majestic Realty Co. Vice President Tom Simmons said in its news release.