Honey Bee closing; Rakestraw moving
Changes coming to Iron Horse Plaza as it turns 10
Faithful customers are flocking to Honey Bee Fashions in Danville's Iron Horse Plaza these days to check the going-out-of-business sales. But, more importantly, they want to say goodbye to owners Angela and Michele Pontious who have been clothing women in style for 37 years.
"We're going to miss our customers," said Michele Pontious. "They're our customers and our friends."
The "common area fee" for the store has gone from $1,500 to $4,000 per month to pay for the new parking lot put in to add spaces to accommodate Chow's restaurant, said Pontious. This is in addition to rent of approximately $7,500 month, she said, and it's more than the store can afford.
The landlord, Alamo Group, said fee increases were "very minor," mostly for repairs and repainting of the entire center, and that the landlord and Chow paid for the majority of the work on the parking lot.
Rakestraw Books is relocating after 10 years in that spot.
"We're packing the 30th and 31st of March and will be settled by the 1st of April," said Julie Barnard, who works fulltime at the shop with her son owner Michael Barnard.
The bookstore is moving to 522 Hartz Ave., a two-story building that currently houses Pioneer Art Gallery on the ground floor and artist studios upstairs. The building is slated eventually for redevelopment.
"There will be lots more room to do more things," said Julie Barnard.
Michael Barnard added that he is sure the artists will be "taken care of." His bookstore will occupy only the first floor.
Another long-term tenant, the Beauty Source, is moving next to Trader Joe's on Railroad Avenue in the middle of March.
The Iron Horse Plaza property was purchased by Alamo Group Iron Horse LLC in 2007, which received an OK from the Town of Danville for Chow's restaurant to move in, contingent on adding 15 parking spaces. The asphalt lot was completely dug up and reconfigured.
Don Gaube, managing general partner with Alamo Group, said he has been negotiating - or trying to negotiate - with all the tenants whose 10-year leases were expiring and is sympathetic to their businesses in this economy.
"We have tried very, very hard with both Honey Bee and Rakestraw to work out a lease extension," said Gaube. "We worked with Michael for six months ... I understand how important he is to the community ... We wish him nothing but luck and success."
He said the rent at Honey Bee was below market but the owner made it clear to him that she was not in a position to stay.
"When we bought the center, Blockbuster was dying so we negotiated a lease termination and started marketing the space," Gaube said. He said they approached Chow's in Lafayette because they wanted a local restaurant rather than a national chain.
"We added 15-20 parking stalls so it was a good thing all around," said Gaube. "We met with all the tenants well before this worked was planned ... everybody was very supportive."
Angela Pontious said Honey Bee was hurt during the two-month parking lot rebuilding. "We have insurance for that but because our doors weren't closed they didn't compensate us at all."
Gaube said he received few complaints during the renovations. He agreed that even the renovated parking lot is often full, especially during peak periods. At the suggestion of Michael Barnard, some spaces near the shops were marked to limit parking to 30 minutes.
Gaube noted that Chow's has brought a lot of business to the center, which is exposure for the other tenants. "Pegasus says Chow's has brought business," he said.
He said no replacement tenants have been lined up but emphasized that his group is committed to promoting Danville. "We had a good event for Christmas (which benefited the Blue Star Moms), banners for Sully Sullenberger, and we want more events in the future," he said.
The mother and daughter Pontious team opened the first Honey Bee 37 years ago in Alamo; when the plaza was redeveloped 32 years ago they moved next to Albertson's in Danville on San Ramon Valley Boulevard. When Albertson's planned to expand, Honey Bee moved to its current location in Iron Horse Plaza, next to what is now Lunardi's.
Their customers faithfully followed and more discovered them until today they have a mailing list of 3,500 who enjoy their contemporary designer clothing.
Michele Pontious said Honey Bee Fashions will be open about three weeks until all of its stock is sold. She said she may open another, smaller shop at some point. But for now the faithful shoppers can only mourn its loss - and check out the bargains.