Sacramento's Town & Country Village, billed as California's first shopping center, is slated for a major renovation that tenants say will include razing much of the 65-year-old complex.
While the center's owner would not confirm the plans, retailers in the center told The Bee they have been notified in general terms of the changes to come.
At least one longtime tenant has been told to close up shop by the end of March.
"I've been here 25 years. You're darn right I'm sad," said Helen Jones of the tony Helen Jones Gallery, which doubles as a frame shop and art boutique.
For decades, Town & Country thrived at the intersection of Marconi and Fulton avenues. It housed a robust mix of high-end independent stores that included housewares retailer William Glen, clothier Bonney & Gordon and the Carousel Toy and Party store.
Those tenants have all closed in the past few years, along with Goore's baby boutique, which replaced William Glen but lasted less than a year. The tenants say they are told that the new plan is to bring in more chain stores behind the shingled storefronts that face Marconi and Fulton.
Officials for the Costa Mesa real-estate group that owns the 232,000-square-foot Town & Country Village won't release details yet.
"We are close to making an announcement. We have to respect the confidentiality of the process," said Audrey Yokota Rhoads, director of public relations and marketing for Donahue Schriber.
The company, which bought Town & Country in 2004 for about $44 million, owns nearly two dozen centers in the Sacramento region, including Pavilions and Natomas Marketplace. It has other building projects under way in Rocklin and Rancho Cordova.
With its red-tiled shingles and covered walkways, the Old West style Town & Country Village was built in 1946 by architect John W. Davis and developer Jere Strizek, who also teamed up on low-cost housing in the area.
Their flat-top homes earned merit awards for design. The shopping center was written about with slight sarcasm decades later by Sacramento native and iconic essayist Joan Didion.
"I imagined (Strizek) a kind of frontiersman, a romantic and revolutionary spirit," she wrote in "The White Album" (1979), noting that he and other builders of the day "staked the past to seize the future."
Today, roughly 25 percent of the leasable space in Town & Country is vacant, according to Donahue Schriber. William Glen closed in 2010, a year after the death of co-founder William "Bill" Snyder. Bonney & Gordon shuttered its doors a year earlier after six decades, as did Carousel Toy and Party.
"The reality is that this used to be a bustling center with lots of old money, but a lot of those people have died and that money is gone," said Benita Kimball, owner of the specialty undergarment boutique, At Last Bras & Lingerie, which is surrounded by empty storefronts on the north end of the center.
When Buonarroti Ristorante one door down closed last fall, it brought the dwindling foot traffic to the back of the center to a halt, according to Kimball.
"It is called the ghost town," she said, looking out at an all-but-empty parking lot. "People assume we are all closed."
Most of Kimball's clients are referred by department stores or come from out of town, so business hasn't dried up completely, she said, but Donahue Schriber's plans for the center have added an element of uncertainty. "We've been told we can ride out our lease to the end of the year, but who knows? It changes day to day."
Businesses at the perimeter of Town & Country fare better than those in the middle and along the north side. Anderson Bros. Pharmacy has been in business since 1949 and has weathered both the recession and the center's rising vacancy rate, said second-generation owner and pharmacist Steve Anderson.
Trader Joe's also does a bustling business and will not be affected by the remodeling plans, said Alison Mochizuki, spokeswoman for the Southern California-based grocer.
Teresa Higgins of Capital Confections chocolatier hopes to survive the changes. "I've been here for 25-plus years. Everybody knows I'm here. Our sales were down in December, but not horrifically so."
David Watson, who moved to the Town & Country area with his wife in 1980, remembers better days at the center, when Aldo's was the go-to restaurant for Italian food and live opera singing on Saturday nights, and his wife would shop for gifts at William Glen and Helen Jones Gallery.
Whatever happens, he hopes the facility retains some of its physical charm.
"I kind of like the old ambience of the place instead of being 'same old, same old' as you see in the other shopping centers," Watson said. "It seems like the more unique it is, it would draw more people."