Pop culture, entertainment & all things Fresno

Kwirkworld closing, Hobby Lobby may be coming, more food and shopping news

One of Fresno’s quirkiest and most-loved stores is closing, but there’s news of a lots of openings in the works too. Here’s a rundown on what’s happening the shopping and eating world in Fresno and Clovis.

Closing: Kwirkworld. The River Park store known for novelties such as stick-on hipster mustaches and socks that say “bacon” is closing. Owner Kirk Psenner is returning to selling real estate. He said Wednesday: “When I look at the economic picture, it’s the difference between just skating by and going back to my passion that I was hugely successful at.” You can see the full story here and read the announcement Kwirkworld posted on its Facebook page here. The store will close sometime in March and is already having a sale.

Possibly opening: Hobby Lobby. The craft retailer that makes headlines for other things confirmed it is looking to open in Fresno. “We are actively looking for a location in Fresno but nothing has been signed as of yet,” says spokesman Vince Parker of Hobby Lobby Stores Inc.

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Autistic boy inspires local fashion line

Children’s clothing line Fly Kidz a has a new kiosk in Fresno and a sweet backstory. The kiosk selling boys and girls clothing opened about three weeks ago in front of the Disney store at Fashion Fair mall. The family-run company also has a store in Reedley at 1036 G St. and got its start selling urban streetwear for little boys.

The line was inspired by Ian Escoto, who was 4 years old when he was diagnosed with a severe form of autism: a rare genetic disorder in which a bit of a chromosome is missing. When he was getting 20 hours a week of therapy, designing T-shirts with his mom was used as a reward for completing therapy. Ian doesn’t talk, so he’d use hand motions to describe a breakdancer or headphones that he wanted on the shirts. Now 7 years old, Ian uses an iPad with a special app to communicate, pointing to pictures in the program. He still picks the colors of the shirts, but mostly now it’s mom and dad — Jacklyn Garcia-Escoto and Jose Escoto — choosing the images.

The family is in the process of forming a non-profit organization called A Puzzle Piece to My Heart. A puzzle piece appears on the clothing tags because “every child with autism has a different puzzle piece that has to be met,” says his mom. Eventually, a portion of sales will go to the nonprofit. The Escotos hope the money can be used to help other families afford iPads and the expensive app that Ian uses to communicate. Ian has made lots of progress since getting the iPad and has far fewer tantrums.

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Who’s coming, who’s going: A new Chick-fil-A and more

Lots of openings and closings to catch you up on today, starting with plans for a Chick-fil-A restaurant at Fashion Fair mall. The tire store outbuilding in front of the mall near Shaw Avenue and First Street will be torn down and rebuilt as a Chick-fil-A, says the mall spokeswoman. Work hasn’t even started yet, so it will be a while before it opens (that’s a file photo of the north Fresno location at right).

Also at Fashion Fair, Love Culture is closing. The national retailer is bankrupt and closing its stores. A going-out-of-business sale has already started. No word yet on when the store will close, but prices should continue to drop.

A store called Metal Mulisha will open Aug. 22 in the former No Fear space. This one is geared toward people living the “Motocross, BMX and X Games lifestyle.” It’s the same company that used to create Metal Mulisha branded merchandise for No Fear.

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Stores and restaurants on the move: Who’s coming, who’s going

Lots of restaurant and retail news happening lately, so I figured it was time for a round up. Here’s what’s happening.

Lots of folks have been asking what’s happening at the former Fajita Fiesta on Shaw Avenue, just west of Cedar Avenue. It’s going to be Guri’s Grubhouse & Taps. It’s a gastropub (that means lots of craft beer and gourmet food) that the people who own Swigg’s are opening. You can read all about it here. No opening date released yet.

The long dead corner of Clinton and Weber will get a Vallarta Supermarket. The Hispanic grocer probably won’t open until the end of 2015, but it’s nice to finally have some action on the site of the former Mid-State Bowl.

The Elephant Lounge is open at 80 W. Shaw Ave. in Clovis in the former North India Bar & Grill. It quietly opened a few weeks ago to work out the kinks. The restaurants sells Indian food — both authentic and fusion — along with Italian and American. Stay tuned for more details on that from me.

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Earth Day gets fashionable

Exhibit 1Happy Earth Day! Some fashionable folks are getting in the Earth Day spirit this week with a new take on the reduce-reuse-recycle message. Mall employees at Fashion Fair and students at Fresno City College will participate in separate events to create outfits from reused items.

Starting at 11 a.m. today at Fashion Fair mall, employees from mall retailers will compete to create works of art that are sustainable and fashionable in its Recycle the Runway event. When a mall in Washington owned by the same company did this, the creations included formal dresses made from shopping bags and drink cups.

And tomorrow from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., students in city college’s fashion merchandising class will display their Recycled Fashion Pop-up Exhibit in the Free Speech area. The photo at right is a sneak peek at what you’ll see on display there (yes, those are CDs) and keep scrolling for a few more. The exhibit is designed to bring attention to the 11 million tons of clothing that end up in a landfill.

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LUSH and ULTA cosmetics stores open

photo(71)Cosmetics store LUSH opened today in the outdoor portion of Fashion Fair mall. This retailer appears to target people who care about the ingredients that go into their soap, skin and hair products. Its products are not tested on animals and more than 80% are suitable for vegetarians and vegans. LUSH products have as little packaging as possible and customers can “go naked” — meaning buy something like a “bath bomb” with no packaging at all.

ULTA Beauty is holding a grand opening this weekend for its third location in the Fresno area (the others are at the Clovis Crossing shopping center and Villaggio on north Blackstone). This one is at the Marketplace at El Paseo and has been open about a week. The store sells cosmetics and perfume, along with other skin and hair products. It has a full-service hair salon.

The grand opening festivities include free makeovers and free gift certificates for the first 100 people through the doors each day until Sunday.

Fresno Urban Outfitters now a discount store

photo(70)The Urban Outfitters at Fashion Fair mall in Fresno is changing formats and is now an “Urban Outfitters Surplus.” That means the store is essentially one big sale all the time. Prices are much lower than they were before and racks of clothing range from “$4.99 and up” to “$29.99 and up” (and with a few exceptions most of the sweaters, dresses and tops are the initial price, no major bait and switch happening here). Both men’s and women’s sections have bins of $3 scarves.

Urban Outfitters made the switch about three weeks ago. It appears to be the third such Surplus store nationwide, with others in Sherman Oaks and Chicago. The clothes come from Bay Area Urban Outfitters stores.

The store also now has a couch, and a ping pong table and video games that customers are invited to play (Extreme Hunting, Final Fight and Lethal Enforcers, if you’re interested).

No official word yet on why the store made the change or if its prices on casual clothing were too out-of-reach for a Fresno market. Also no indication Urban Outfitters plans to do this at the other brands it owns, including Anthropologie.

Shock at seeing actual bellies on local mannequins, models

mannequin 003I was walking through Fashion Fair mall last week and this mannequin stopped me in my tracks. Do you see what’s different about her? She actually has a little belly, a little pooch below her belly button. (You can click to enlarge the photo if you want.) It’s not much of one, sure, but it’s something you just don’t see on mannequins. Most of them have flat as a pancake stomachs — and look nothing like real people. But plenty of real people, even thin people, have and agonize over a little pooch like this. Hiding it with shapewear isn’t even a question for this gal. This was at Caché, the formal dress shop, by the way.

Then fellow Beehiver Traci Arbios mentioned the models in bikinis on the wall outside of the European Wax Center in River Park. Click on the jump to see the photo. The two on the left are beautiful — thin and with hourglass figures — but they don’t have the traditional wispy bodies of most models. There’s no vertical ab line and they have some rounded curves. Traci said she was stunned when she saw it.

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Luxury store Michael Kors opens at mall

Michael Kors 009Michael Kors opened a store in Fashion Fair mall Thursday, adding to Fresno’s short list of list of luxury retailers. The store is in the outdoor portion of the mall, across from Anthropologie. It carries purses, jewelry, shoes, sunglasses and some clothing. The prominent holiday collection of purses — all with the metallic Michael Kors logo — range from $298 to $398. A pair of flats with the big gold metal logo (and the logo is important here) sells for $125.

The brand is best described as “attainable luxury,” says mall marketing manager Kelly Tallant-Martin. As is the case with Coach or Louis Vuitton, many middle-income people will save up to buy a Michael Kors purse, in addition to the consumers who don’t bat an eye at buying a $300 purse. The brand is also sold at Macy’s and is one of the strongest-selling brands at the local Macy’s, she says. The Michael Kors store will likely carry merchandise only found in Michael Kors stores and have new releases first, she said.

Michael Kors is a global designer who got his start at Bergdorg Goodman. His products are now carried in Saks Fifth Avenue and the company has stores in London, Milan and New York.

Retailers come, retailers go

Openings and closings in the retail world seem to be the new normal these days. Here’s an update of who’s coming and who’s going.

Likely on the way out: Fresh & Easy.
The British parent of the mini grocer announced last week it just wasn’t making enough money to make shareholders happy. The retailer is considering pulling out of the U.S. and selling its stores. Signs of the retailer’s struggle were evident in the Valley, with several stores built but never opened.

What this means for the eight Fresh & Easy stores in the central San Joaquin Valley is still up in the air. You can read more about why it’s failing here.

Coming soon: Walmart Neighborhood Market.
Walmart has been opening its own version of a small grocery for a while now and one is coming to Fresno. The 40,000-square-foot store is under construction at the southwest corner of Willow and Herndon avenues, and another is slated for Demaree Street and Goshen Avenue in Visalia.

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Black Friday: Mindless greed or harmless fun?

Photo by Bee photographer Eric Zamora

As the Bee’s retail reporter, I cover Black Friday, the traditional kickoff to the holiday shopping season, every year. At about 12:30 a.m. Friday, I found myself at Fashion Fair mall, stuck in a mob of people outside Victoria’s Secret.

The crowd had completely filled up the mall corridor and come to a standstill. Hundreds of people were trying to get inside the store, which was letting only a few people in at a time. It was hot, people were breathing on me and a feeling of claustrophobia was starting to climb up my throat. I heard screaming. The forearm of the woman behind me was pressing into my back even though I’d already loudly told her to stop pushing me. I reached behind me and squeezed her arm because it seemed like the only thing to do at the time that might get her to stop.

I’d find out later that people were getting pushed and smashed up against the glass of Victoria’s Secret. All this for what? A $25 hoodie? Don’t these people know you can get a hoodie at Target for $12 any day of the year? Suddenly I came to a crystal clear conclusion: I hate this. I want to be as far away from here as possible.

But as miserable as that experience was, it’s hard to demonize Black Friday as a whole. There’s another side to the night that’s just plain fun. Earlier in the evening, people were friendly and quick to laugh as I hopped from store to store. Whenever I asked someone who spent hours waiting to get sinside a store how they passed the time, they all said the same thing: Making new friends. People who were once strangers were swapping stories, jokes and shopping strategies. The woman who ate her Thanksgiving dinner on the sidewalk outside Target befriended a cute little 10-year-old boy and the two of them laughed their way through the hours. Mothers and daughters in town for the holiday spent hours catching up.

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Black Friday gets an early start

Are you ready, Black Friday shoppers? Or should I say “Black Thursday?”

The post-Thanksgiving shopping madness starts earlier than ever this year as Toys “R” Us, Walmart and Sears break out the doorbuster deals at 8 p.m. and Target opens at 9 p.m. Thursday.

You can read all about what to expect in the Fresno area here. Note that stores like Walmart, Target and Sears are appealing to night owls and early birds alike with waves of different doorbuster deals throughout the night.

The earlier-than-ever opening times are inspiring a backlash from Target and Walmart workers, who say they’re ruining Thanksgiving.

But if you’re one of the many caffeinated Americans who make Black Friday shopping a family tradition, the opening times listed below can help you plan your strategy. Most retailers Black Friday ads will be Thursday’s Fresno Bee or are already online.

Also, many Starbucks locations near major shopping areas will be open all night Thursday, including Starbucks at River Park and the new one at Shaw and West avenues.

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Forever 21 takes over the world

I’m still trying to wrap my brain around business reporter Bethany Clough’s report in today’s Bee that women’s clothing retailer Forever 21 has its eye on a bunch of dying Gottschalks stores, including Fashion Fair and River Park. Isn’t that like, say, a store the size of Radio Shack expanding into Circuit City? Are we really going to get stuck with THREE floors of bright-and-boppy mall-girl fashions targeted at “Twilight” fans? (Actually, Forever 21 says it’ll add men’s clothes as well.)

OK, I’ll admit I’ve never been in Forever 21 except to take a shortcut through to the parking lot, but what I saw certainly didn’t seem to fit the general-interest department-store bill to me. Three floors, two big Fresno stores? Something tells me that all those loyal little old lady-Gottschalks costumers who have been shopping there since 1684 or whenever the venerable chain was founded aren’t going to find much to buy in its replacement.

Update 1 p.m.: Here’s Bethany’s news blog post on the subject.

Update 4 p.m.: Wow, stuff happens fast in the retail world. Bethany reports online that Forever 21 already has dropped its River Park plans. (Did you get to take a lunch break today, Bethany? What do you think will break by the end of the day — that Sak’s Fifth Avenue is moving to Fresno?)