Since a Ralphs grocery store shut down at the Castaic Village shopping center five years ago, the number of businesses has sharply declined, leaving those remaining worried about their fate and forcing residents to travel farther to shop.
But a Valencia couple with a vision for prosperity in the local area of the Santa Clarita Valley is trying to turn things around.
“We bought the shopping center on May 1,” said Robert Stratton, who now co-owns the center with his wife, Sandy. “We bought it because we wanted to improve the property; it was being let run down. Our kids are junior lifeguards at Castaic Lake and we constantly pass by. We want to help give that community feel, one bigger than it once was.”
Castaic Village sits fairly vacant on the northeast corner of Lake Hughes and Castaic Road with 14 empty storefronts and 13 occupied units, including a nail salon, Chabelo’s Mexican Grill, Dollar Tree and longtime tenants County Cleaners and UPS.
Soon after anchor store Ralphs closed, several others came down like a domino effect, including Rite Aid, Burger King, Chase Bank and a Starbucks, which has made the area feel “lonely” for remaining businesses.
“Before, when Ralphs used to be here, it was full all the time,” said Jose Garcia, owner of Chabelo’s Mexican Grill. “Back then, these stores helped bring in more customers. There was lots of traffic and walking traffic to our restaurant, but now it’s kind of lonely on this side.”
Chabelo’s, which has served the community for seven years, has relied on its longtime customers and its delivery service, which is 30% of its business, to stay open.
Stratton said he and his team have been focused on maintenance work. The hard part: bringing in tenants.
Some he has worked on bringing in include: The One TaeKwonDo, which has a location in Santa Clarita; Plan of Action, a life skills organization that helps veterans and children with autism; and Kingdom Life Ministries. The Strattons are also discussing the possibility of offering Gymcheer USA a new home after its forced relocation.
But perhaps the greatest need for the area is a grocery store, to which Stratton said: “we’re trying hard to get one and we are very ready for them if they are interested.”
“There’s a couple of convenient marts and Hasley — where the Ralphs is at now — is technically Castaic but it’s a couple of miles away for people in this immediate area. The most impacted are those that live in Castaic Village Senior Apartments. They were in walking distance from the Ralphs, ” said Jack Crawford, owner of UPS.
The need for a grocery store has even been mentioned by hundreds of residents via a Castaic community Facebook group, who have suggested anchors like Vallarta, Food 4 Less, Trader Joe’s and sit down restaurants.
Crawford said other shopping centers besides Castaic Village have experienced the same or worse pattern of business vacancies.
Their hope: the new Castaic High School and the Northlake housing project, a 2,800-home planned community on 1,330 acres between Interstate 5 and Castaic Lake. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved the development on Sept. 18, which environmentalists have raised concerns over impacts construction would have on wildlife habitats.
“Northlake will be a significant driver in helping the area bounce back from the challenges of empty local retail stores that would serve the Castaic community,” said John Musella, spokesman for the Northlake project. “The families that will move into Northlake will help increase business and programs throughout the area – an important factor in helping Castaic thrive and grow.”
The fruition of the project could bring an “injection of customers” for existing businesses and make Castaic one of the last areas in the county to enjoy a suburban lifestyle, said Flo Lawrence, Castaic business owner and former president of the Castaic Area Town Council.
“We need as many people to come to the restaurants here,” he said. “We have good business owners and we need your support.”