Took a little road trip the other day. I'm working on a story about Gottschalks, the Fresno department store chain that's in serious financial trouble, and I wanted to talk to shoppers in its hometown. I wound up at the company's flagship store in the River Park district, a shopping mecca of the sort you'd find in Roseville (the store's neighbors include a Ruth's Chris Steak House and a Sur La Table, the upscale kitchenware retailer).
Then I headed into the Sierra foothills and stopped in Oakhurst (pop. 13,000), near Bass Lake, where Gottschalks is the only department store in town. (Pretty little town, by the way. And it was nice to get out of the fog for a couple of hours).
What I found was enduring loyalty. Among certain customers, there remains a strong bond between shopper and store. Gottschalks might not be a huge name in Sacramento, but it's where generations have shopped in Fresno (and some smallish Valley communities) for decades.
But I also found evidence of what's troubling Gottschalks and other department store chains: shoppers who say they only go to Gottschalks when there's a sale.
Bottom line is, loyalties to particular stores are under assault as consumers increasingly search out the best deals.
My story will appear in the Bee sometime next week.