Paul Cruikshank knew he needed to expand his business.
That he would do that by opening a second Ragin’ Records location in north Fresno, at the River Park Shopping Center, was something of a surprise.
“I don’t think many people thought they would come here,” says Tracy Kashian, River Park’s senior vice president of marketing and public relations.
But the store that is a Tower District mainstay had its River Park grand opening July 2 in one of the center’s Niche Retail spaces. It’s a strip of storefronts butted against the parking garage, just past the Regal movie theater.
Ragin’ Records was busting at the seams with all the product it had coming in. Along with full collections of used records, Cruikshank was buying new records by the dozens to keep pace with the industry.
He needed more space for the expanded inventory, but wasn’t about to give up the spot he opened in the Tower District in 2019.
He says he knew there was potential at River Park.
The new store is small, just 600 square feet, and packed with vinyl; more than 2,200 records, with a focus on new releases and a selection that is totally different than what you would find at the Tower District store. There are also books and cassette tapes, collectible VHS, T-shirts and other street wear.
The idea of an edgy, independent record store mixed in with the center’s larger, mostly national retailers and restaurants might seem odd. And some people were judgmental about the store’s move north, Cruikshank says. But River Park was nothing if not welcoming. Shockingly, so, he says.
“They were stoked. They really wanted us here.”
It’s the reason the center built these Niche Retail space in the first place.
“We’re very passionate about mom-and-pop tenants,” says Eric Peterson, River Park’s director of leasing.
There are six spaces running from 500 to 800 square feet with open floor plans that are ready-built for retail stores. There are no bathrooms or water hookups inside. The leases run month-to-month and are designed for seasonal businesses and those not yet ready for larger storefronts, or for business owners who aren’t prepared to be locked into a traditional five-year lease.
Grizzly Fest ran its ticketing office out of a Niche Retail space in the months before each of its music festivals.
Just down from Ragin’ Records, the nonprofit Made for Them has a space for its social enterprise shop, The Find.
Next door, jewelry maker Karla Osborn will be selling handmade earrings, necklaces and the like under her Pretty Pickie brand. She currently sells at River Park’s two weekly farmers markets, but hopes to have a shop open later this summer.
Fresno’s first selfie studio
At the end of the strip is Selfie Land, which had its grand opening at the end of June. The business bills itself as Fresno’s first selfie studio. For $25, you get an hour to wander among more than 20 themed backdrops, plus access to ring lights and other equipment to make sure the photos look social-media legit. All you need is your phone.
“We love stuff that’s new,” Kashian says.
The Niche Retail space allows business owners an opportunity to try out those new or different concepts, she says.
Niche Retail graduate
George Deleija and Roman Gonzales were some of the first to take advantage of the Niche Retail spaces.
U-Tec River Park opened in 2015 and remained in the space until this June, when it moved into a larger storefront just across from Regal Cinemas. In the same conversation, Deleija refers to the Niche Retail space as a “lifeline” and “a golden bridge.”
Deleija had worked his way up as part-time employee at Gonzales’ computer repair store in Madera and convinced him to become business partners on a new store at River Park.
“We went from just being a repair shop to almost being a destination,” Deleija says.
U-Tec, which does data recovery and phone and computer and other tech repair down to the motherboard, kept expanding its services and had to hire new employees. During the pandemic, when computer repair was considered an essential service, U-Tec saw another huge uptick in business.
Eventually, it outgrew the space.
“We needed to make that move,” Deleija says.
U-Tec has four other locations in Fresno and having a shopping center open up spaces and work with businesses month-to-month is not something that happens in other parts of town, Deleija says.
“The fact that they would offer that is mind-blowing. It’s unheard of,” he says.