Julian Holifield is at ground zero of the squabble over the downtowns bulbs.
“They (the bulbs) haven’t hurt our business,” Holifield said Monday shortly after 11 a.m. after ringing up his fifth sale of the day at Manteca Bedquarters located at Yosemite Avenue and Main Street on the ground floor of the IOOF building that’s been there since 1913.
Holifield believes the huffing and puffing over whether to keep the landscaping bulbs in place or take them out is diverting attention and energy from what really has to be done – a concerted effort by merchants to attract customers downtown.
“Look at this location, “ Holifield said of downtown. “More than (28,000) cars pass here each day. It’s a golden opportunity. We need to get people to stop and get out of their cars.”
Holifield for over 20 years has been practicing what he preaches. Manteca Bedquarters has evening and weekend hours, offers delivery every day, has a clean store that’s well-lit and inviting, offers competitive pricing, and does what he can to spread the wealth among his neighbors.
Holifield leases the vacant asphalt lot next door and offers it for use not just by customers of other downtown stores but by other groups and businesses including Costco when they were signing up members before opening their new Manteca store.
If you think it is slightly crazy that Holifield was allowing the competition – Costco does periodically sell mattresses – he’s crazy like a fox.
The weeks that Costco was signing up members was some of his busiest as it brought people who stopped to get Costco memberships to walk next door to his store. He still plays off on Costco offering anyone with a Costco card a 5 percent discount on merchandise in his store. Not a bad deal considering he matches Costco prices to begin with.
It flies in the face of conventional wisdom that a mattress store of all things survives and thrives in downtown.
work for customers
Perhaps the most essential rule that Holifield lives by is keeping hours that work for customers whether they are commuters or busy Manteca residents who live and work in town.
“We’re not a Blue State where people don’t shop on Sunday,” Holifield said, noting that staying open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. limits downtown’s potential.
To back up his point, a customer in the 11 o’clock hour Monday morning said the reason why she keeps coming back to the Bedquarters has everything to do with convenience, quality, prices, and hours.
“I loved the Thursday hours downtown used to have,” noted Cathy Silva who was one of three customers who dropped into the store between 11 a.m. and noon to make a purchase.
Silva was referring to a practice abandoned some 20 years ago where all merchants downtown stayed open late on Thursday nights on a consistent basis.
Manteca Bedquarters is one of the few businesses opened during such events as the Tuesday night farmers market. He gets “walk-in business’ although he notes it is just people looking to use a clean bathroom. Even so, it gives him a chance to get people in his store planting the seed in their minds that when they go looking for a mattress, it is a place they should go.
“Before we (the downtown) ask the city for help, we need to help ourselves,” Holifield said.
In that vein, he’d like to see store owners hire people to keep their businesses open later into the evenings as well as on weekends.
They could even do it for next to nothing since downtown –as well as much of Manteca – is in the state enterprise zone that offers a five-year tax credit that covers essentially all of the salary the first year of a qualified worker being on the job and then dwindles down to 20 percent less each year for a tax credit for the next four years.
City Manager Steve Pinkerton noted the city is ready to help any business with information on the tax credit available through the enterprise zone.
Qualified workers include veterans, those trying to get off welfare, and the unemployed as well as a number of other groups. Holifield believes if merchants do it right they could use the first year of such a tax credit to give virtually free help to build up a “following” by getting the community into the habit of heading downtown after work or on weekends to shop, dine, and for entertainment.
One thing that Holifield would like to see – a satellite city hall office – isn’t likely to be in the cards, according to Pinkerton.
“Right now the city is looking at centralizing more and more to reduce the manpower needs,” Pinkerton said.
Other things such as putting in a zoning overlay to prohibit certain types of businesses such as tattoo parlors is possible with existing such uses grandfathered in.
The bottom line for Holifield is to build on what downtown has.
“We work with what we have including the bulbs,” Holifield said as he looked out his window.
“Look at that, there is a beautiful bench for people to sit on and trees,” he said. “What we have to do is get people down here on the sidewalks.”
To contact Dennis Wyatt, e-mail email@example.com