The bigger they are, the harder they fall.
While the sales tax revenue giants of Stanislaus County – Modesto and Turlock – are expecting significant reductions in sales tax revenue stemming from COVID stay-at-home orders since March 2020, Ceres city officials only expect mild decreases. That’s because Ceres has a smaller reliance on sales to meet budget demands than do the two larger neighbors.
“I’m hoping that it’s a minimal impact,” said Ceres City Manager Tom Westbrook. “When you look at Ceres as a whole, we don’t have a lot of those large sales tax generators, like the city of Modesto has the mall, which was significantly impacted; and the city of Turlock has Monte Vista Crossings. We’re kind of, hey, we’ve got some services, we’ve got some goods, we’re just kind of rolling along and so we didn’t feel the pinch that maybe those larger cities did.”
The city of Ceres showed minimal decreases in sales tax revenue for March, April, May and June of COVID. Westbrook said, in fact, that sales tax and Measure H public safety sales tax revenues came in slightly above what was projected because of the conservative approach.
Ceres’ biggest sales tax generators, such as Walmart, Home Depot and grocery stores, all remained open throughout the pandemic and the sales remained normal. Westbrook said fuel sales dropped slightly because many workplaces shut down during parts of 2020. Ceres restaurants, which have had to switch from indoor to sometimes outdoor dining to now take-out only, have not been especially large sales tax generators for city coffers, he explained.
"I’m hoping that our conservative nature in the budgeting process will keep us fairly level.”Ceres City Manager Tom Westbrook
“While there may be some modest decrease in sales tax revenue this year, I’m hoping that it’s not going to be dramatic into the 15 to 20 percent less revenue. I’m hoping that our conservative nature in the budgeting process will keep us fairly level.”
Turlock, by contrast, is down $1.2 million in sales tax revenue. Compared to the first quarter of 2019, the first quarter of 2020 saw a drop in sales tax revenue, going from nearly $3.5 million last year to about $2.8 million this year.
As sales fell, some businesses in Ceres had to close their doors for good. Penny Style, a woman’s clothing boutique, was one of several downtown Ceres businesses that could not survive the effects of the state’s lockdown. Pastas Pronto Italian restaurant also closed its doors. Embroidery Plus vacated its Fourth Street location and relocated just outside the city limits.
But there are bright spots as well. Tap In, Wine Down, a taproom and wine bar located at the corner of Lawrence and Fourth streets, was able to open temporarily when California relaxed its pandemic guidelines. However rising COVID case numbers have caused state officials to impose the tighter guidelines, impacting taprooms, indoor dining at our local restaurants, hair and nail salons, gyms and other businesses.
Owners of The Doghouse, a taproom opening at the corner of Central and El Camino, have been hard at work transforming a former professional office space into a taproom with indoor and outdoor seating. It is located near what will be an ACE train platform expected to be built by 2023.
“It’s been amazing to see how some businesses adapted to the pandemic,” said Herman Bhatti, president of the Ceres Chamber of Commerce. He noted how La Cascada adapted on Mitchell Road by installing a drive-thru window and almost immediately began accommodating outdoor dining.
“Classic Wine Vinegar found a way to help out during the pandemic when they re-tooled their equipment and began bottling hand sanitizers at a time when hand sanitizers were impossible to find,” Bhatti said.
While the pandemic brought a halt to some businesses in 2020, it was the year that work finally began on the Walmart Supercenter site at Service and Mitchell roads. The store will be the anchor for the Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center.
In February 2020 the city gave its approval for the launch of the Ceres Gateway Center, a 13.65-acre commercial project east of Highway 99 and located just south of the Supercenter site. In-N-Out Burger, Chipotle, Panda Express and Circle K are among the businesses interested in the site being developed by Genesis Family Enterprises. Plans call for the construction of nine commercial buildings totaling 53,863 square feet, fast food pads and a convenience store with a gas station/carwash. The second phase will bring the hotel and junior anchor development.