Blueprint for change

The empty lot at Sixth and Main streets will become an example of the building possibilities open to downtown property owners, if the city OKs plans by a group of investors led by architect Steve Gonsalves.

Gonsalves, along with co-investor David Rogers, is a shareholder in Nichols, Melburg & Rossetto Architects and Engineers, which currently has its office at 434 Broadway. Once the building is complete—they expect to break ground this spring—their business will move in. Other investors who will locate there include a pair of accountants. In fact, here’s the rest of the list: Charlene Gonsalves, Marvin “Butch” Meester, Kristina Rogers, Christine Roster and Jerrald Roster.

“It’s been my dream to build a very nice office building, a nice, major addition to the downtown,” Gonsalves said. “But it’s not just an office building.” In keeping with the Chico General Plan’s desire for mixed residential and commercial uses, the building will include two 2,500-square-foot loft apartments. The Gonsalves will live in one of them, a welcome throwback to his days living up in a three-story walkup in San Francisco. The architectural style will be Spanish Colonial with contemporary elements, and the structure will come in just under the city’s downtown height limit of 65 feet.

That land, adjacent to the Senator Theatre, used to be the site of a drive-in back in the 1950s and ‘60s and later was home to Fireside Books and a bike shop. The building was eventually torn down, and Gonsalves bought the lot five years ago.

He also hopes the group’s project will “spark the entrepreneurial juices of some of the old-time property owners in the downtown.”

The Planning Commission, rather than the Architectural Review Board, will be the body to hear the application and consider granting a use permit at its March 20 meeting.

Clearing out the Wherehouse

The Chico Wherehouse, not unlike the Chico Tower Records, managed not to seem corporate in a town where many diss huge, out-of-town businesses. And it managed to maintain an impressive array of used CDs amid its inventory.

The prior sentence is written in past tense because the Wherehouse, whose parent company has filed for bankruptcy, will soon be no more. Employees got word Feb. 14 (Happy Valentine’s Day) but are still not sure when the final day of business will be. A sign on the door of the Mangrove Avenue store names Feb. 18 as the last day to rent things.

Local employees referred media questions to Anita-Marie Hill, a Los Angeles-based spokesperson. She said the decision of which stores to close is “based on profitability.” Once the bankruptcy court approves the closures, Hill said, the Chico store will reopen for eight to 12 weeks for a liquidation sale.

Business-watchers have been following the Wherehouse’s slide nationwide for some time. On Jan. 21, the company announced that it was filing for restructuring under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code and would close 120 “unprofitable or underperforming stores” in the coming months, leaving it with 250 outlets. The 30-year-old chain had previously filed for bankruptcy in 1995.

In what has become the mantra of struggling music businesses, Wherehouse’s CEO Jerry Comstock in a press release blamed “the increase in illegal downloading music and CD burning, coupled with continued pressure from the major discount retailers to sell product below cost.” The restructuring plan calls for investing in store remodels and interactive listening stations.

Other music chains are planning closures, too, including 150 of the Best Buy-owned Musicland and Sam Goody stores. The corporate owner of FYE, which has a store in the Chico Mall, plans on closing 24 of its 900 locations, according to a report in The Los Angeles Times. Employees at the Chico FYE expect it to stay open.