Retail construction continues locally despite pandemic
Judging only by construction of new retail buildings around Bakersfield, it would be easy to conclude the pandemic has hardly disrupted the local economy. That’s not the case, of course, with unemployment hovering at about 13 percent in August. But in recent months whole new shopping centers have sprung up at the intersections of Stockdale Highway and Buena Vista Road, and at Panama Lane and Ashe Road.
Meanwhile, construction of additional retail projects has begun at Snow Road and Calloway Drive. Also, work is scheduled to begin soon on a similar project at Panama Lane and Gosford Road. There’s no question these projects predate COVID-19’s arrival and originated under better economic circumstances. In that sense, observers say, they are left over from a time when investor confidence was stronger than it is now. But it’s also a good sign — and a benefit to local employment — that these developments are proceeding despite the economic slowdown and generally challenging times for the retail industry.
Bakersfield commercial real estate broker Scott Underhill said March and April were tough but that since then business has picked up. Rents have come down, he noted, as tenants and landlords have worked together out of shared necessity. “We’ve adjusted and moved forward,” he said.
The pain in local retail has not been distributed evenly. Broker Vince Roche said some stores are suffering, as are family entertainment centers. But drive-thrus, grocery stores and home-improvement retailers, he said, are doing quite well. Roche said he takes hope in a recent surge in demand from people moving to Bakersfield from other areas where homes are more expensive. Eventually that should lead to more homes and, after that, additional stores to serve new neighborhoods. He cautioned that COVID-19 has clouded an already uncertain future for retail. Society remains “in the storm,” he said, and it’s hard to tell where the economy will end up after the pandemic subsides. Developers may have reason to pause, he said, but not necessarily good cause to halt. “It (the virus) has created just another layer of risk that has to be assessed and really evaluated on a project-by-project basis,” he said.
One byproduct is that construction labor is now hard to come by, said Joe Jannino, an estimator at general contractor SC Anderson Inc. “There’s plenty of work going on right now,” he said, adding that SC Anderson has kept busy lately largely because of school construction and other publicly funded building projects.
The project that began recently at Snow and Calloway will feature an Arco filling station with a convenience store and carwash, Underhill said. There will also be a fast-foot restaurant and a 20,000-square-foot store whose tenant has not been identified.
At Stockdale and Buena Vista, he said, a Panda Express will open this week. Other tenants there will include a Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers, a Little Caesars Pizza, a Del Taco and a nail salon, along with other tenants still negotiating leases. The shopping center being completed at Panama and Ashe will have a Planet Fitness gym, a 7-Eleven, a Habit Burger Grill, a Raising Cane’s, a Mexican-style restaurant and other tenants, Underhill said. He said at Panama and Gosford there will be an Arco, two fast-food restaurants and a 20,000-square-foot store.