Known for its shopping, restaurants and parades, Turlock’s downtown has become a destination for many in the 209 area code and beyond. After some polishing throughout the decades, the city’s Main Street has truly become the gem of the Valley.
Once a quiet area of town that was home to mostly professional services, downtown Turlock has experienced plenty of change this millennium. Today, the downtown core houses some of the city’s hottest night spots in the area and visitors flock to its wide array of retail boutiques and restaurants during the day, whether its cuisine with an Asian flare at First & Main or a burger and brew at 10 East Kitchen & Tap House.
The transformation from quiet and serious to the hustle and bustle of downtown Turlock that residents know and love today was thanks to the Downtown Revitalization Plan of the early 2000s — a $7.5 million investment into Main Street by the City of Turlock into which turned the rundown business district into the picturesque downtown area it is today, complete with old-fashioned lamp posts, park benches and planter boxes brimming with flowers.
Turlock resident Jeani Ferrari served on the revitalization committee and made decisions on details like artwork, landscaping and even the layout of the street. A revitalization for Main Street was needed, she said, as strip malls like Monte Vista Crossings began to dominate Turlock retail, leaving little room for small, locally-owned businesses like those that make up the downtown core today.
“The word on the street was that after a major shopping center is built, it takes about 10 years for downtowns to come back — if they do. We knew we were in for a lot of work, but Turlock’s downtown had a lot of things others didn’t have,” Ferrari said. “We had a Main Street and then the maze of what you call the rest of downtown and it was all very centralized. As far as buildings go, we had really good architecture and handsome structures that had been there for years.”
With good bones to work with, the committee made decisions which would eventually make downtown Turlock extremely pedestrian-friendly (right down to the type of brick used for the sidewalk). Frequent stop signs and crosswalks coupled with trees which now provide plenty of shade make Main Street the perfect place for a stroll, all while inviting visitors to stop into shops as they walk.
At the west end of Main Street is Calafia, the 14-foot fountain statue which welcomes the community into the historic area, all while celebrating the area’s connection to the soil and its agricultural vitality.
“The community wanted something that expressed the ethnic, cultural and agricultural character of the town. I think people thought that Calafia captured the agriculture and the weather, and it expressed the commodities we have here,” Ferrari said. “We had five intersections downtown to choose from, but we decided a gateway piece would be perfect.”
The revitalization saw the entire downtown street torn apart, along with sidewalks. Main Street Antiques co-owner Lori Smith, who has been with the shop over 25 years, said it was a tough time to be a business owner during construction, but well worth it in the end.
“At that time, strip malls were the place to be and downtowns were just kind of forgotten,” Smith said. “The fact that they had the foresight to invest in downtown and do all that made it what it is now. We have a walkable downtown and I think that’s part of its charm...We get so many people coming from quite a ways away who tell us how cute our downtown is.”
After the revitalization was complete, the City shifted its focus to what the central area of Turlock would become known for. Some developers suggested marketing the downtown core as a bridal district, while its plethora of antiquing options had others set on a treasure hunting capitol. In just a few short years, however, ideas for a bridal destination faded and the reality of an adult playground settled in as bars, restaurants and even hookah made their way onto Main Street.
But downtown Turlock isn’t a one-trick pony by any means. There are places to have fun, like the well-known country bar The Udder Place, but there are also spots to have a calming cup of coffee, such as La Mo Cafe. It turns out you can’t put downtown Turlock into a box — it has a little bit of everything.
While some of Main Street’s businesses didn’t survive the pandemic, even more shops and eateries are on the way as others step up eager to fill in the gaps. The vacancy rate is close to zero as restaurants like Commonwealth and Rancho Fresco Mexican Grill prepare to move in. The historic Enterprise Building has undergone a makeover in recent years as well, and more change is surely on the way.
It’s the camaraderie between downtown business owners — and support from the community — that has helped Main Street continue to flourish in recent years, Smith said.
“I remember when I officially became an owner of the shop, I was parked at the stoplight looking downtown and thought, ‘Hey, I get to be a part of this,’” she said. “We’ve got a good group. We all work together and have the same goals in mind to make downtown a success.”
It’s rare that an area of town serves as both a retail destination and community “watering hole,” but downtown Turlock has done just that. While visitors and residents frequent Main Street’s stores, it’s also home to the annual Turlock Certified Farmers Market and holiday parades on Christmas and the Fourth of July.
For Ferrari, seeing what downtown Turlock has come to mean to the community gives her chills. She’s routinely reminded of the power one investment can have for art, business and a hometown as a whole.
“It’s now established itself as something that other cities are very envious of, and it’s stood the test of time,” Ferrari said. “I think Turlock has been an example for a lot of communities because we did it right.”