Gottschalks closures means 1 million square feet now vacant in California retail

It could take years to fill more than 1 million square feet of real estate from Merced to Bakersfield that becomes vacant when local icon Gottschalks closes.

When it’s done, the landscape could look vastly different. Some experts say this is the beginning of a fundamental shift in the economy and in buying habits

The shopping centers of today could be gone or redeveloped tomorrow. The retail-oriented shopping center of 2009 could become a mix of offices, entertainment and even homes.

“We have too much retail in this country,” said Bruce Katz, president of Retail Focus, a shopping center consulting group in San Francisco. “I really do think we have overbuilt ... and there will be a contraction.”

Liquidators will soon start selling about 875,000 square feet of retail space spanning from Merced to Bakersfield that Gottschalks either owns or leases. The department-store chain also has a 420,000-square-foot distribution center on 60 acres in Madera that eventually will be sold.

Location and size will play a vital role in the disposition of the 61 stores in six states. They range in size from the 2,800 square-foot Village East specialty store in Visalia Mall to 204,000 square feet at Inland Center mall in San Bernardino, and are in cities from Anchorage in Alaska to Indio in Southern California.

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