Herculean Days: Let’s go shopping

On September 3, 2013, in Newsletters, by Dean Brightman

Reprinted with permission from The Hercules Express.

An early edition of The Herculean summed up the state of retail shopping in the late 1970s quite succinctly:

“The City of Hercules receives the majority of its revenue from sales tax from the Pacific Refinery… As you are well aware, we have no other retail businesses in Hercules.”

This meant, of course, residents had to travel to Pinole, Rodeo, Richmond, or elsewhere to do any kind of shopping.  While Hilltop Mall and the recently completed Pinole Vista center offered plenty of options, the people of Hercules strongly desired some shopping choices of their own.

By the summer of 1980, plans were taking shape:

“Plans for the long awaited shopping center in Hercules are underway. Alpha Beta and Santa Anita Development Corporation plan to develop 25 acres of property on the north side of Sycamore Avenue nearest the freeway… After public hearings, design review and map approvals, the developers will begin construction — probably in the fall of 1980…  A tentative opening date is set for February or March, 1982.”

Another center was in its formative stages, as well:

“The Sycamore Place Shopping Center is a one acre site across the street from the Alpha Beta Center. Lafayette Savings & Loan, real estate, insurance and title company offices, an oriental food store, a beauty shop, Video Engineering, an optomitrist (sic), and a gynecologist are among the proposed tenants of the site… However, construction may begin this fall and be completed within six months.”

By October, the plans included a Longs Drugs, Alpha Beta, a hardware store/nursery complex, small shops owned by Hercules residents and restaurants.

Refugio Creek would be diverted to run parallel to the center, and jogging and bike paths would be constructed to connect with Refugio Valley Park.  Citizens were also invited to give the center a name.

By April 1981, economic forces would have other things to say about retail development in Hercules.

“On February 24, City Manager Ralph Snyder informed the City Council that official state sources had notified the city that there would be a drastic reduction in the sales tax generated by the sale of fuel oil by Pacific Refinery.

Additionally, Mr. Snyder noted that the housing market had collapsed because of the astronomical interest rates for home mortgages.

These two factors, coupled with the impending fiscal crisis in California, have tremendous impact on the financial situation of Hercules. The City Council has begun evaluating its current economic status with the intent of establishing budgetary priorities for the coming fiscal year. Definitely, the situation spelled out by Mr. Snyder will have an impact on this process.

By the summer of 1982, frustrations with construction delays compelled the Mayor to address the community:

“The main delay of the shopping center has been economics. In order to make a shopping center profitable, the owners need a certain number of households in the community. Hercules promised to grow fast enough to provide these houses. However, the bottom dropped out on the housing….”

Due to the economic downturn, the owners of Creekside Shopping Center (a name had evidently been chosen during the delays) had to rethink everything from how to lease business space to renegotiating agreements on off-site improvements (road widening, traffic lights, etc).

Construction for the Creekside Center and Sycamore Place finally began in earnest in the summer of ’83, and Hercules’ first retail businesses were beginning to open by the following spring.

The first stores in Sycamore Place included Optometry and Dental offices, a travel agency, Asian food store, ice cream parlor, gift shop, beauty school, video rentals, and Sunflower Bakery, which is open to this day.

Round Table Pizza was one of the original Creekside Center tenants, along with Loards Ice Cream, a tennis shop, a flower and gift shop, and an appliance store.  Leases were in place for more medical practices, another travel agency, an additional video rental store, and a beauty shop.  By the fall of 1984, Thrifty’s drug store was still under construction, and there was talk of a Post Office opening by the end of the year.

On September 16, 1984, Hercules finally got its own grocery store as Lucky’s (they had since taken over many Northern California Alpha Beta locations) opened its doors.

Dean Brightman is a member of the Hercules Historical Society.

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