There are many people that believe Mayor Ben Cantu is as powerful as the Wizard of Oz who, by yanking on a few strings and commanding it to happen, will bring a Trader Joe’s or a Cheesecake Factory to Manteca.
Well, they are right. The mayor is like the Wizard of Oz. And if anyone really followed the plot line of the movie they’d realize the ones with any real power to make things like Trader Joe’s appear in Manteca are them and not Cantu.
There has always been exasperated bantering about why Manteca “doesn’t have this or that” when it comes to retailers and restaurants. Ironically the Internet has not only amplified such chatter but it has provided a poison pill than can make it next to impossible for all the things that those pining for their say they want in their version of a retail and dining nirvana.
Online shopping has cut significantly into brick and mortar ventures and where they open new locations. Every time you buy — let’s say sporting goods — from Amazon et al you chip away at the chance another sporting goods store will open in Manteca as well as potentially undermine the viability of the ones that are already here.
While Internet sales have eaten away at traditional retail everywhere the impact in Manteca is blunted somewhat by the community’s sustained growth rate, Naturally, those that want a laundry list of retailers, dining establishments, and entertainment venues also abhor growth.
Even so criteria that concerns use to determine if it makes economic sense has changed to reflect ever changing new realities.
At one time full-service supermarket chains operated on the assumption a store needed 15,000 residents to make economic sense. That meant if a community had four supermarkets and 75,000 residents that a firm building a fifth market would make economic sense. The number of residents needed for specialty grocers such as Trader Joe’s within a trade area is even higher given their base of customers typically don’t use them for every day grocery needs.
That was before the advent of big box grocery retailers such as Winco as well as the fact that Target and Walmart have essentially become supermarkets as well.
Restaurants have even more pitfalls when it comes to expanding to new locations especially in the Age of COVID-19.
The bottom line is economics drive business decisions.
To understand why, first one myth needs to be discredited. That’s the idea that a city can decree what specific firm as opposed to business type can open locations within their jurisdictions. California zoning laws that give cities the authority to determine land use within their jurisdictions as to general type of things that can be done in specific zones has as restaurants or food service. There are additional criteria they can impose on the operational type of restaurant allowed in specific zones such as those aimed at pass through highway traffic or fast, casual, or sit-down dining.
What cities have no legal authority to do is determine what firm can or cannot submit plans to build and/or open a restaurant if they meet the basic parameters of land use for the zoning imposed by the city for a specific parcel.
It sounds ludicrous to most people — including myself — that once Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers builds and opens on East Yosemite Avenue Manteca will have three purveyors of fast food chicken within two blocks of each other. If you toss in El Pollo Loco there are four chicken places within three blocks.
Yet talk to the representatives of the chains and they will tell you that one doesn’t hurt the others as they all have different ways of preparing and selling chicken.
These people are not idiots. They have to be fairly sure based on market research and experience that opening another fast food chicken dining experience in Manteca and that close in proximity to others makes financial sense. It costs close to $1 million to build and equip a typical free standing fast food restaurant in California. Depending on the location the land can easily double that cost.
As for a City Council simply saying “no” to more chicken fast food places because they’d rather see a fast food vegetarian Thai place open, the courts are clear on such sentiments.
A few years back when small town retailers as well as bigger chains like SaveMart banned together to try and stop Walmarts from opening in various locations from Ripon where they succeeded to Turlock where they didn’t, they could not simply get city leaders to outright say no to Walmart.
Instead they crafted language that restricted stores based on square footage tailored nicely to exclude both a Walmart SuperCenter and the standard Walmart like Manteca has. But in doing so you also would block over big box retailers such as Home Depot from building. Some cities wouldn’t go that far and ended up with Walmart. Others did find a way to legally impose the square footage ceiling thus they kept out Walmart unless the Bentonville, Arkansas-based chain opted to open a Neighborhood Walmart.
There have been rare occasions where the City of Manteca has found ways to legally manipulate the market due to pressure from residents. And when they did the results have always been a flop mainly because once the city pacified the loud squawkers demanding the city do something to secure a must have business, the people that complained failed to support the business.
The prime example was the skating rink that opened in the old Manteca Honda showroom in the mid-1990s on North Main Street where NAPA Auto Parts is today.
After a ruckus was raised and someone stepped forward who was willing to open a skating rink, there was no suitable location. So the Greek chorus set out to hammer city leaders to severely tweak land use rules — in this instance parking requirements — to allow a skating rink to open at 840 North Main Street.
A funny thing happened. Those that hammered the council at every public meeting that they needed to do something as the closest skating rink was in Modesto and that they had to drive their children there which somehow was an issue the city had a moral obligation to address, succeeded in getting the city to contort itself around the laws. But after the rink opened, many declined to take their kids there.
The reason? It cost $1 more for admission per kid to skate than it did at the Modesto rink. Forget the fact there was a 40-minute round trip ride to the Modesto location that easily cost $6 in gas not to mention the time. Those that squawked non-stop about how city leaders were derelict in their sworn duties by not bringing a skating rink to town, balked at patronizing it because skate time cost $1 more per kid.
Those who truly believe Mayor Cantu is the equivalent of what the Munchkins perceived as being the all-powerful Wizard of Oz then they are the ones living in a fantasy world.