Country Club Plaza has rich history: Future exterior, interior upgrades, new stores, possible name change in the works for plaza
Editor’s note: This is the fourth part in a series regarding the history of the “four corners” of Watt and El Camino avenues.
Country Club Plaza, as presented in the previous article of this series, began with a supermarket anchor in 1958 and three years later had its first department store, Weinstock’s.
Weinstocks, a very impressive structure
Carmichael resident Bill Ellis, who was the first manager of the Weinstock’s store in the plaza, described the Weinstock’s building, which took more than a year to build, as a very impressive structure.
“When Weinstock’s opened (in the plaza), it was a very unique building,” Ellis said. “It had imported marble and it had all kinds of amenities. It was something like Sacramento had never seen.”
And in describing the store’s interior, Ellis, 89, said, “We imported hardwood floors from Kentucky for certain departments and we had the people from Kentucky come and install them. We had wonderful, full-wall carpeting in certain areas and we had a fine dress department and we had a fine coat department. The showcases, which is what we did in those days, were of fine quality and cost $1,000 a foot. We had china, glass, gifts, sterling silver. It was a very high class store.”
Ellis said that he was named the store’s manager while he was working as a buyer at the Weinstock, Lubin & Co. store at 12th and K streets.
“I was told I would be manager three months before (the plaza’s Weinstock’s store) opened, roughly, and I was in on the last part of the construction (of the plaza building),” said Ellis, who altogether spent 40 years working for Weinstock’s. “I was there to learn what the store was about and what the space was allocated for and to supervise the workmen who were putting things together.”
Also associated with the plaza store were Marion Armstrong, president and general manager of Weinstock, Lubin, and the store’s assistant manager, Ray L. Byers.
As mentioned in the previous article of this series, a Penny’s department store opened at the site of the plaza’s Stop-N-Shop store in the summer of 1971.
Kathy Neutz, who grew up in Fair Oaks, said that she remembers shopping at this Penny’s store and other businesses in the plaza during the 1970s and 1980s.
The plaza was the place to shop
“I remember going to some of the older stores (at the plaza) like Penny’s and Weinstock’s,” Neutz said. “It was busier back then, because there weren’t as many malls. (The plaza) was one of the malls besides Sunrise Mall (in Citrus Heights) that you could go to. I would come here (to the plaza) with my mom or with friends. It wasn’t a hang out mall though, like Sunrise (Mall) and Arden (Fair Mall).”
After many years of operation at its plaza site, Penny’s was replaced by Gottschalks.
During the summer of 2009, Gottschalks closed its plaza store and the building remains vacant.
Weinstock’s closed in 1996 and was replaced by a Macy’s department store.
In 2003, under its then Scottsdale, Ariz.-based owners, Arizona Partners Retail Investment Group, LLC, the aged plaza was remodeled.
Unfortunately for the plaza, despite this remodel, many stores left the plaza and the mall was left with many empty store spaces.
Among the last businesses to exit the plaza were Subway, American Eagle Outfitters and PacSun Clothing.
Future of the plaza
While recently shopping at the plaza, Neutz said, “There definitely used to be more to (the plaza) than there is now. I just think it’s the area. It has kind of declined a bit and there are other areas that are growing and upcoming and that’s where (people) want to go. Hopefully they can rebuild this area and get it more economically stable. It’s all about the competition.”
For those concerned about the present status and future of the plaza, Peter Morgan, vice president of Laeroc Funds, the private real estate investment company for the plaza and multiple properties from San Diego to Portland, said that this shopping center’s future appears promising.
“When we bought the center in (August 2006), we were really excited about the opportunities,” Morgan said. “The mall was basically full and performing very well. It was just our timing on acquisition by 2006, right before the worst recession since the Depression, to the demise and bankruptcy of our anchor tenant, Gottschalks, in combination with the downturn in the retail market in Greater Sacramento.
“We think we’re coming out of this recession, the letter of intents (for possible new tenants) and the capital improvements that we plan to put up, we truly believe that this is the low point of the center’s life. We’re excited about the opportunities going forward to bring the mall back to its prominence.”
The letters of intent are from Office Depot, which would take about 6,000 feet at the plaza, and a national grocery store, which would use the 92,000-square-foot space at the former Gottschalks site.
Bed Bath & Beyond and Ross Dress for Less leaving the plaza?
In regard to recent local news reports that Bed Bath & Beyond and Ross Dress for Less will be relocating to Town and Country Village, Morgan said, “At this point, both of those tenants have leases and Ross just extended their lease with us. If (the addition to) Town and Country is built, Bed Bath & Beyond and Ross are supposed to open stores in that location. But Bed Bath & Beyond and Ross could make a decision to have a store in both locations. They both have an option that they could exercise to extend their terms (at the plaza).”
Although Morgan would not reveal when these leases end, he did state that the leases are signed through at least 2014.
He also noted that the plaza’s Sports Chalet store has renewed its lease.
Morgan added that remodeling and other enhancements, including façade improvements from La Bou to the old Gottschalks building, are planned for the plaza.
“The grocery store is planning a remodel of the façade and the accompanying parking lot,” Morgan said. “We are planning concurrently an extensive improvement of our parking field in front of the mall, including landscaping, parking lot improvement and repair and a brand new entry façade to the mall.
“Once we get that completed, then we tackle the interior of the mall. It could be as quickly as six months. But we really can’t do any construction work in the mall during the holidays.”
And for those who find confusion in having two shopping centers with similar names at Watt and El Camino avenues, Morgan said that help may be on the way.
“We’re looking at renaming (Country Club Plaza) to reflect that (future) look of the center, although we don’t have a new name chosen,” Morgan said. “When we come up with some names, we’re probably going to float them by the market before we actually (change the name) to see how it’s received.”
In summarizing his feelings about the future of the plaza, Morgan said, “I’m very excited about where this center’s going. I think Sacramento is going to be delighted to see the improvement from where it’s been to where it’s going.”