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Ceres continues to lack in services
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It's 2011. Ceres' official U.S. Census population figure is 45,417.

Ceres, however, continues to lack in some services that other communities its size often enjoy. Blame location. And, in part, demographics. And also throw in some short-sightedness of city officials back in the 1980s and 1990s who failed to set aside the freeway frontage for development as Turlock did a decade ago.

Forget, for a moment, that the economy is in the tank. When the economy was going like gangbusters, Ceres didn't get a lot of new retail. Being sandwiched between the 500-pound gorilla to the north and the bully who kicks sand in your face 10 minutes to the south means Ceres doesn't get some of the development it might enjoy if it were isolated along 99.

Indeed, the Ceres of 1970 - with its 6,001 residents - had some of the key services it doesn't have today. Right off the top of my head I can think of a hospital - which closed in 1993 because of the industry's shift to more managed care - and a drive-in movie theater and places to buy clothing. Ceres also had a Christmas tree farm. Ceres no longer has a hospital, no movie theater, no Christmas tree farm and very limited clothing (sorry but Walmart clothing doesn't do it for me).

Some of the losses, as I eluded to, are owed in part to a changing world. For example, video stores burgeoned in the 1980s and 1990s but have since gone the way of the dinosaur because of digital technology and Redbox. Society has changed, too. Drive-ins are a thing of the past, just as are places to skate, whether ice or roller, and putt putt golf used to be a big deal to kids. They was replaced by video games and smart phones. Indeed, Ceres tried unsuccessfully to snag an ice rink and a 12-screen cineplex in the 1990s when Gary Napper was city manager.

But as changes have taken business out of Ceres, population gains should have perhaps brought about other things. Why is it, for example, that Turlock has a number of labs to have your blood drawn while Ceres has none? Fair or not, Ceres residents are expected to drive to where the services are.

With all due respect to Walmart, why should a person have to leave Ceres to buy clothing? There's no Kohls or J.C. Penney. Come to think of it, why should anyone have to leave Stanislaus County to visit an Old Navy?

Ceres doesn't even have a Bed Bath & Beyond.

No book stores.

You can rent a U-Haul in Ceres but you can't rent a car here.

Not a single batting cage, arcade, go-cart track.

The issue of what Ceres lacks is probably more about location and size and less about disposable income. It's estimated that the median household income of Ceres is $51,586 - higher than Modesto's - while having 13,674 housing units. Turlock, by contrast, has a median income of $54,697 and 24,644 rooftops. Oakdale has higher incomes ($60,056 annual household median income) but not the rooftops (7,841).

One cannot help but acknowledge the obvious. Being located between Modesto and Turlock means Ceres is often overlooked. Charlie Wood, the former city planner director who was involved heavily in economic development, enticed Applebee's representatives to come and look over Ceres. Instead, they looked over the shoulder and chose to open a store at 3900 Sisk Road. It was Applebee's entry into Stanislaus County. Applebee's has established stores in Turlock, Merced and Manteca. Ceres, however, still doesn't have an Applebee's. (It seems like if Ceres rooftops are included with Modesto's that Ceres should at least get more of the action.)

When in 2008 city officials tried to get Applebee's - and a laundry list of national chains - to build on the vacant lot now occupied by the new Rite Aid at Mitchell and Fowler, all said no thanks. Greg Smith of Coldwell Banker's commercial division made serious attempts to market the corner to 33 chains including Red Lobster, Elephant Bar, Chili's, TGI Fridays, Olive Garden, Outback Steakhouse, Golden Corral, Peppermill, Coco's Bakery, Shoney's, Sweet River Grill and Tahoe Joe's. Letters and marketing packages also went out to Hungry Hunter, Mimi's Cafe, Marie Callender's, Mike's Roadhouse and Johnny Carino's. There were no takers, he said, probably because of its location. At the time Smith said "I received four thank-yous for the inquiry but we don't meet the right demographics, the location, etc. They prefer to be by the freeway or a major intersection."

Now there's a possibility of Ceres getting an Applebee's - or something of that caliber - if the Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center become a reality because it has the visibility and accessibility from the freeway. But lo, there is a group which objects to the center because of Walmart. The proposed center certainly has freeway visibility that likely will attract new places to eat and shop.

And should the Walmart at Hatch and Mitchell be vacated with approval of Mitchell Ranch, let's hope Ceres might be able to get a clothing store, such as a Kohl's, or an entertainment facility. Perhaps a bowling alley or theater.

In this sluggish economy, Ceres has a developer wanting to do something. Opportunity is a'knocking. It would be a shame to not answer the door.

How do you feel? Let Jeff by e-mailing him at