By BoNhia Lee
The Fresno Bee.
Business dreams in Old Town Clovis sometimes start in itty-bitty spaces.
Nestled between a skin care shop and a longtime women’s clothing and gift store on Pollasky Avenue is Old Town’s tiniest retail space at only 150 square feet — the size of a long, narrow closet.
Entrepreneurs who want to test their business ideas in the city’s popular shopping district line up for the cozy spot despite its slightly claustrophobic feel and no employee bathroom. (Tenants use the public restroom around the corner.) The storefront has been home to a jewelry store, a coffee house, a yarn shop, a makeup business and a dress boutique.
“It’s a unique space,” says property owner Linda Rossi. “It’s an easy rental. People want it.”
Rossi’s father, Emil Prudek, created the mini store at 421 1/2 Pollasky in the mid-1960s. Before that, the space was a dirt alley between two buildings that Prudek owned, giving visitors access from the street to the parking lot behind the businesses.
Prudek allowed a shoe shiner to work in the alley while he owned and operated Emil’s Barbershop in the southernmost building, now home to Skin Haven. Rossi remembers the shoe shiner’s name was Clifford, but can’t recall his last name.
“My dad would stick his head out (the door) and say to Clifford, ‘You got time to shine a pair of boots?’ and that is how Cliff made his money,” Rossi said. Some boys took over after Clifford died, she says. A roof had been built overhead by then, but the ground was still dirt. Some years later, Rossi enclosed the entire thing.
Peggy Bos, president of the Clovis-Big Dry Creek Historical Society, remembers a man named Toll Thornton who worked at the shoe stand. Thornton was one of the few black residents in Clovis during the 1920s, Bos says. He worked at the barbershop when it was O.S. Dimmen and later persuaded Prudek to apply for a job there. That advice launched Prudek’s 45-year barbering career, according to the society.
“It’s been fun,” Rossi says of her association with the unique space. People ask about the space all the time, wanting to get in, she says. There is a waiting list.
Clovis resident Ed Flores eyed the petite spot for three years. When it became available in April, Flores and his wife, Linda, decided it was time to open their dream business — a Christian bookstore. The shop, which Flores says is 6 feet wide by a little more than 21 feet long with a total size (including nooks and crannies) of 150 square feet, was the perfect size, with wall space for 900 new and used books and low overhead costs.
They opened Clovis Book Nook in August. The store specializes in classic books by early thinkers like John Calvin, Martin Luther and John Newton.
Why the teensy space? Ed Flores says his store is a ministry more than a business. “Our goal is to make the rent and make the expenses. We’re not here to make a salary and we didn’t want to have employees.”
Old Town’s next biggest space is the seamstress business down the street at probably 250 square feet, says Flores, who is also a commercial real estate broker. Most of the commercial spaces are around 1,500 square feet, he says.
Shawn Miller, the city’s business development manager, can almost touch the walls of the shop from fingertip to fingertip when he stretches his arms out to the side. Historically, the space has served as an incubator, helping new businesses establish themselves, Miller says.
For example, The Knit Addiction, a yarn store, started there and moved into a larger space across the street. Dry Creek Coffee & Gift Shoppe, a popular coffee supplier, also started in the pocket space and grew into a bigger spot on Pollasky where On the Edge Coffee House now exists, Miller says.
Micheline Golden, owner of The Knit Addiction, grew up in Clovis and has seen the businesses move in and out of Rossi’s little space — a silversmith, a candy store, a seamstress.
“No one stays there a really long time because it was a launch pad” for businesses, Golden says. “That’s the way it worked for me.”
Golden started the yarn store in 2011. Her children referred to the store as the “Harry Potter” address, playing off the train platform number — 9 3/4 accessible between platform 9 and 10 — that started a student’s journey to the wizard school.
The store walls are tall, which allowed Golden to place spinning wheels and weaving looms on top of bookshelves where thousands of squishy skeins of yarn were placed for sale. Golden held knitting meetings and get-togethers on the sidewalk in front of the store. Nearly a year later, she moved to a larger storefront.
“I was amazed, when we moved from that spot to the bigger store across the street, at what we fit into that space,” Golden says. She closed the store in 2014 and started an Internet business.
“It’s a funny little hallway,” Golden says. “I have never seen anything this tiny. Before we began our business, we were traveling to yarn trade shows and folks with temporary spots have more space. You have to be really creative and that’s how you make it work.”