Goodbye, palm trees

New building, tenants headed to Chico Mall parking lot; plus, rue21 is coming to town.

Typically, when a new business comes to town, you hear all about the great economic benefits it will bring—new jobs, increased tax revenue, the kinds of quantifiable outcomes that boost the local economy and meaningfully contribute to the city’s financial standing.

But how many new businesses come in and literally uproot a decades-old source of contention?

The building now occupied by Marie Callender’s at the Chico Mall parking lot on East 20th Street is slated for demolition, and a new building approved for that site is going to be home to two tenants—both new to Chico and both food-related, I’m told. I mentioned in a previous column that one is probably Panera Bread. The other is still under wraps.

I’m sure both businesses will bring jobs and money to the city. But I know there’s a strong Chico faction that will find one tidbit about the arrival of the businesses more compelling than the dollars and cents.

The building plans, which were approved last week by the Architectural Review Board, included removing existing trees. Yes, those trees. The palm trees.

When the Marie Callender’s building was first approved 25 years or so ago, plans indicated that sycamores were to be planted around the restaurant, but palm trees were planted instead. I chatted with Irv Schiffman last week, who was chair of the ARB at the time, for a quick history lesson on the matter. He said he felt intentionally misled by the applicant back then, and when the palms were planted instead of sycamores, he spearheaded efforts to try and block Marie Callender’s from receiving its business license. From there, a firestorm ignited.

The landscaping became the “infamous palm trees,” as city Associate Planner Greg Redeker referred to them last week, and the brouhaha has stayed in the midst of community conversations ever since.

Schiffman’s association with the palms has remained paramount too. He said one friend sent him a picture of a Marie Callender’s location in Hawaii a few years back. Strangely enough, it was landscaped with sycamore trees. Another friend called during a massive wind storm in Chico years ago, saying they thought the palm trees were going to topple.

Schiffman’s daughter, by the way, is named Tamar, meaning palm tree in Hebrew.

Schiffman has never set foot in Marie Callender’s, but with new businesses coming in, and the old trees going out, it may just be time for him to turn over a new leaf on the matter. Schiffman did half-jokingly ask if Panera Bread was a fan of palm trees.

Since both tenants will be new to town, there are only two options when it comes to Marie Callender’s: The restaurant will either relocate or pull out of Chico. It was noted that with the ARB approval, building demolition is planned for early next year. Again, get those pies while you can.

Speaking of the New Year, Chico Mall representatives announced this week that rue21—a popular teen fashion retailer—is coming to the center in February.

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