■ Gene Pedrotti buys Benicia trailer park, mulls Southampton plaza anchor’s relocation
Gene Pedrotti, who owns Pedrotti Ace Hardware in Southamption Shopping Center, has bought Benicia Trailer Court, 501 East N St., and said this week he expects to decide by January whether to move his store to the 1-acre site.
Pedrotti said Wednesday he has been troubled by changes in the shopping center, particularly deficiencies in the parking lot, which he said should be reconfigured from scratch.
He said the decision to look for property for a possible relocation also was sparked by an in-store survey he conducted two years ago to study his customers’ shopping patterns.
The hardware store has about 200,000 visits annually, and Pedrotti said the survey showed him that his store is the primary or sole destination in the shopping center for 90 percent of his customers, unlike other shoppers who expect to visit multiple stores once they’re at Southampton.
While those shopping for groceries may also stop at the center’s salons, visit a restaurant or pick up items at some of the other retailers, Pedrotti said, his customers see his store as their primary stop. “When you are ready to paint, you come to Ace,” he said.
Pedrotti said new tenants in the shopping center and improvements being made by others have contributed to additional traffic at Southampton — but the number of parking spaces has declined.
“We’ve worked to stay at the peak of our game,” he said, citing how his store is stocked, how it rotates its merchandise and how it trains employees.
However, “Parking is out of our hands, he said. “At the wrong time of day, you can’t get in … you can’t park.”
He said the center originally was planned to have 734 spaces for vehicles, but the builders obtained a variance in 1979 that reduced that number to 635. Recycling bins, loading zones and other structures, including a cell tower, have since reduced the spaces to 557, he said.
Parking gets crowded during lunch time, in the afternoon when schools let out and parents use the shopping center as a pickup point, and on weekends, he said. Meanwhile, parking in back of the shopping center, usually expected to be filled by employees’ cars, also has been reduced by about two dozen spots, he said.
This isn’t the first time Pedrotti has aired concerns about running a business in Southampton Shopping Center.
At a May 8, 2012 meeting with Mario Giuliani, now the city’s economic development manager, and Duane Oliveira, representing the Benicia Economic Development Board, Pedrotti and other Southampton tenants changed the topic from the city’s Business Development Action Plan and Retail Market Indicators report to their concerns about the shopping center and its owner, Weingarten Realty, a Houston, Texas-based firm that bought the plaza in 1998.
Then as now, Pedrotti described parking problems, saying they are aggravated by two clothing dropoff bins placed on former parking spaces. Others characterized the center as “below average,” and Pedrotti described how some long-term tenants, such as ABC Music and Verizon, had left.
Since then, the city’s Planning Commission heard reports that dialogues between merchants and their landlord had started, encouraged by the Benicia Chamber of Commerce.
Unlike in 2012, the shopping center now is about at capacity, with several new tenants moving in since that meeting with Giuliani and Oliviera.
In addition, Raley’s, the supermarket anchor store, is undergoing extensive renovation inside and out — a flagship renovation for the supermarket chain.
Meanwhile, the center’s stores already are gearing for the holiday shopping rush, Pedrotti said, and that’s going to make the parking situation worse.
“They’ll all be fully staffed,” he said, and that could mean 200 to 250 spots in the lot and in back of the stores could be occupied by employees’ vehicles.
“It’s frustrating,” he said. “It’s just terrible.”
Pedrotti said his hardware store is another of the shopping center’s anchors, but said his customers need “reliable parking.”
He said that concern and the in-store survey got him looking around Benicia for land to buy. It’s taken two years for Pedrotti to find an available acre, he said, because space in the city is hard to come by.
He said he has initial design plans for a store on the trailer park site. But he added the park’s tenants, most of whom are in motor homes rather than mobile homes or manufactured housing, don’t have to start looking for new sites right away.
In fact, if Weingarten Realty reconfigures the Southampton lot so parking is sufficient, Pedrotti said, he may not move at all.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. But should he move, he expects it won’t hurt his business.
“We did that study on shopping patterns, and it tells me we don’t have to be in the shopping center,” he said. The 1-acre property he bought “is an excellent location. It’s as central as you can get in Benicia.” The move also would put him closer to the city’s downtown shopping area, he noted.
Should he decide to move, he said the new site would allow his company to have a quality nursery as well as assured ease of parking for his customers. The site has easy access from Interstate 780 and it would put him closer to Benicia Industrial Park, too, he said.
In the meantime, he owns a trailer park with 25 spots, of which 17 have recreational vehicles and the rest have mobile homes. He said he’s doing some maintenance work on the park, repairing some of the asphalt and fixing some building stucco.
Pedrotti said he has met with the park’s tenants and explained that his plans weren’t yet set in stone.
“If we decide to stay, we’ll kick the can down the road. We can operate the trailer park. By January, I expect to know.”