Startups and the mall

There’s help available for those hoping to open their own business; the Chico Mall gets more empty

One of the things I love most about my job is the fact that I’m constantly out meeting new people, learning new stuff. For instance, I may be touring the Feather River Fish Hatchery one day and then sitting at a government meeting the next.

As this is our annual Entrepreneur Issue, I’ve been thinking lately about all of the business owners and innovators I’ve met in my time at the CN&R. Too many to count. It’s fun to watch them evolve, though naturally, some are more successful than others.

Last year, I got a tour of Chicostart, a local business incubator that assists people in the early phases of starting a business. It was cool to see how companies with a wide range of focuses share a space and resources and are able to help each other while receiving guidance and mentoring from professionals.

Chicostart isn’t the only place young businesses can turn for help. Chico State has a program for students as well as its Center for Entrepreneurship. Then there’s the Butte County Business Incubator Program, which can help with a range of things, from labeling and marketing to management training skills.

When I started my modest sewing business a few years back, I had no clue that these resources were available (not that I had any grand plans of moving beyond my living room). Take advantage of them!

An emptying mall I took a walk around the Chico Mall the other day, for the first time in a long time. I usually park by the nearest entrance to the store I intend to go to and then tunnel-vision my way there. Not this time; during this visit, I was curious to see how the place was doing.

I knew that Shubert’s Ice Cream & Candy had recently opened up a second location in the mall, but I also got word that Oak Bridge Academy, an independent study/online school being offered through Chico Unified School District, was going to locate its offices there. The spot was formerly occupied by the Family Christian Store—a large space near the now-closed entry to Sears.

Walking the length of the structure, I was struck by how empty it was. There were almost as many fanny-pack-clad mall walkers as there were shoppers. And, as I scanned the storefronts, I counted not fewer than 10 of them shuttered. What’s more, the majority of those were large spots. With The Watchman moving downtown, that’ll be another big space left vacant. Git Ya Some Pizza in the food court also has closed since the last time I was there.

Clearly the mall is adapting to this so-called “retail apocalypse.” Shorter-term leases are a trend of the times—but they mean less stability of tenants. The vast empty anchor space is an opportunity to breathe some new life into the mall. Maybe an entertainment complex with a few restaurants, a Dave and Busters, a movie theater …. Yeah, that’d probably get me to the mall more often.