Citing persistent delays in opening the ambitious retail center and lagging consumer activity due to the economy, Oxnard welcomed this week a 99 Cent Store as the first business to open at The Collection.

At an impromptu ribbon cutting on March 29, city officials, chamber of commerce representatives, residents of the neighboring RiverPark development, and curious onlookers with nothing better to do welcomed the discount retailer into the vacant mall that has been fraught with delays for more than two years.

Mayor Tom Holden cited the oversized scissors he used to cut the crimson bow, both purchased for less than a dollar each, as examples of what an economically minded Oxnard resident could find at the retailer.

“Go down to Thousand Oaks or even next door to one of the Camarillo (outlet) malls, and you won’t find a pair of these for less than $10,” Holden said.

According to Holden and Curtis Cannon, the city’s community development director, a 99 Cent Store was chosen for The Collection due to the reliability of the chain store’s name, and for the opportunities at sales tax revenue, which critics complain The Collection should already be generating for the city.

Cannon said his department hired a consultant to research markets with similar retail structures to determine if the bargain store was a good fit for the mall, originally planned as a destination for wealthy out-of-town shoppers.

“Ultimately, we figured bringing in the store as an entry-level type of retailer would bring visitors to The Collection and satisfy them until other stores start opening up,” Cannon said.

Nancy Lindholm, Oxnard Chamber of Commerce director, agreed, admitting that diminishing chamber memberships could be assuaged by welcoming businesses like the 99 Cent Store into the city’s commercial sector.

“It’s been hard for businesses and consumers alike,” Lindholm said. “We’re hoping that more business owners will look at the 99 Cent Store, see how successful they’ll be, and decide that Oxnard is a good place to set up shop.”

The Collection, stuck in more than a two-year rut of stalled construction, needs all the help it can get, according to Dr. Bill Watkins, a chief economist with Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks.

“One rule of thumb in supply and demand is that when you boost commercial sales and bring in more revenues, those are big factors in stimulating a stagnant economy,” Watkins stated.

Some residents of the exclusive RiverPark community, faced itself with slow home sales and dormant construction, were none too pleased with the city’s left-field choice in the retailer, believing that the new store targets the lowest socio-economic demographic, contrary to the upscale players proposed earlier.

“We relocated all the way from Martha’s Vineyard and were promised that we’d have a P.F. Chang’s and an REI and a multiplex movie theater,” said resident Ellen Meriwether. “Instead, it’s almost three years later and all we’ve got is a vacant lot and a place to buy cheap trinkets and tchotchkes.”

Max Klingfern, owner of Max’s Cheap Trinkets and Tchotchkes on Oxnard Boulevard, confessed that he’d be lying if he said he wasn’t threatened by the presence of the new 99 Cent Store.

“I can lower the price on my merchandise only so much before I’ll go out of business,” said a visibly worried Klingfern, noting that he may reduce his prices to an unheard-of 98 cents to take on the competition at The Collection.

Perennial critics of Oxnard government were particularly vocal about the new 99 Cent Store. An online petition gained traction this week, earning 50,000 hits and nearly as many signatures opposing its inclusion into the mall’s retail lineup.

“This is just another way the brass at City Hall is trying to hornswoggle their way into the pockets of Oxnard residents,” said Tim Flynn, a former City Council member leading the charge. “And those pockets have been empty for a long, long time.”

The ultimate fate of the bargain-basement retailer may depend, however, on the future of floodplain maps to be released by FEMA. Federal authorities late last year rescinded the most recent version of maps of the Oxnard plain, portions of which placed nearly the whole of The Collection development at risk of a major flood event.

Setbacks were worsened when Shea Properties, chief developer behind RiverPark and The Collection, announced that the dormant shopping center would not open in its entirety until at least the fourth quarter of 2011, at the soonest.

Colm Macken, Shea Properties president and CEO, offered his perspective on the delay.

“We want the timing to be right before we present the people of Oxnard with the ultimate shopping and dining experience,” Macken said. “Patience, with The Collection, truly is a virtue.”

When asked about the FEMA situation and the alleged flood risk, Macken deflected the question, admitting he had little involvement or knowledge of the situation.

“FEMA? Flood risk?” Macken asked. “I don’t know anything about that. I’m looking out my high-rise office window, and it’s sunny here in Orange County. I mean, if it rains, the 99 Cent Store carries rain slickers for less than a buck.

Right?”   

 
This story is one of many in our April Fool’s Day package this week.