Times tough, but many choose to weather storm

By: Jon Brines, Special to The Placer Herald
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The message from Lucille’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Que on Lonetree Boulevard in Rocklin is, “yes, we’re open. Please, try the ribs.” “Daily, we’re getting calls that we’re closing and we don’t know where it’s coming from,” said Lucille’s manager Jerry Cabije. “The rumors are definitely 100 percent false.” Cabije said it could be a sign of the times. Lucille’s sits on prime pad in the Blue Oaks Town Center, which has been hit with a number of recent closings including Mervyns, Office Depot, The Shoe Pavilion and Carino’s Italian restaurant. “Unfortunately, Carino’s didn’t make it,” said Michael Smythe of the Rocklin Retail LLC, which owns the shopping center. For months, Carino’s customers came to the dark restaurant for service only to find a note on the door that said it was closed for remodeling. But franchise owner John Gantes and his company Westbreck, have closed the location for good, according to Smythe and officials from Carino’s corporate office. “Carino’s Italian restaurants, as a concept, we are doing fine,” said Warren Chang, spokesperson for Carino’s Corporate Office in Texas. “California real estate issues are deeper than most areas. We are all suffering through it.” Chang said Gantes is a multi-unit operator that runs more than 300 restaurants. John and Linda Gantes filed a Chapter 7 personal bankruptcy Dec. 12 and Carino’s in Natomas and Elk Grove, owned by Gantes’s Ocean Country LP, is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, according to court documents. Neither Gantes nor his lawyer could be reached for comment by press time. Cabije said he’s been approached by a number of employees from the former Carino’s location and could only hire one. “He left three weeks ago because he couldn’t afford to live in California,” said Cabije. “He’s like, ‘this place is too expensive. I’m going back home. He was from the East Coast.” Smythe said his company is doing everything it can to help shopping center tenants struggling with the economic downturn and the loss of traffic when the anchor store closed up shop. “We’ve been very aggressive in reaching out to our tenants,” Smythe said. “We’ve amended a great deal of our leases to keep them in our center.” Sportsman’s Warehouse and RC Willey chose to open their first California stores in Rocklin at the Blue Oaks Town Center. Smythe is excited about potential clients but said he could not divulge who else is interested right now. “We have had a few good quality tenants that have come forward and are showing sincere interest in the Mervyn’s location,” Smythe said. “A large, value-oriented grocer would be great.” Rocklin City Manager Carlos Urrutia said that might be a good fit, as grocery stores are doing well in the bad economy. “People are not going out. People are eating at home,” Urrutia said. The closings are putting a bind on the city. Urrutia said sales tax revenue is already down nearly 11 percent and is not expected to get any better for the rest of the year. It’s also having a negative effect on future development. Small businessmen like Rocklin resident Pat Restori, who wants to open a restaurant like the Waffle Barn, are discouraged. “We actually thought about opening a restaurant, buying a place in Rocklin and we talked to some people and the failure rate is just too great,” Restori said. “We didn’t want to take a chance on it.” Urrutia said the whole recovery hinges on the attitude we have about our own money. “Whenever you have uncertainty, people don’t spend money,” Urrutia said. “The stores close and lay off people. So now those people don’t spend money and more stores close. It causes a cycle of negative decisions.” Urrutia said the proposed development project for Sierra College Boulevard and I-80 could help the city turn the page on this recession with the potential of $2 million in sales tax revenue. Big box stores like Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Target and Kohl’s are all slated to build stores, Urrutia said. “When the economy flips, we’ll be prepared,” Urrutia said. Lucille’s manager hopes loyal customers like Nungio De Christopher will continue to put rumors aside and go out of their way to visit their Rocklin restaurant. “They have the best beef ribs in northern California,” De Christopher said. “I live in Folsom. I drive all the way out here to eat at Lucille’s.”