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A look back at 2016

Posted: Friday, Dec 30th, 2016

Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian The sun sets in Watsonville, as seen from Loma Vista Drive.

If 2015 was all about change in Watsonville, 2016 picked up right where the previous year ended.

But it was a different kind of change. While 2015 saw new faces in old places, the business landscape in the city was shaken up quite dramatically throughout 2016.

In mid-February, Rocky Franich, owner of the long-standing Marty Franich car dealerships in Watsonville, announced that he was selling the business to Seaside-based Victory Toyota and Lexus.

Now owned by Peter Blackstock, the newly-renamed Mid Bay Ford Lincoln and Monterey Bay Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram celebrated its remodeled Auto Center Drive facilities with a ribbon-cutting ceremony in November.

While the Marty Franich dealership transition went seamlessly and didn't come to a surprise for anyone involved, that was not the case for eight businesses in the Crossroads Shopping Center. At the end of February, as the business owners prepared to open their doors on a Monday, they were met with an eviction notice, demanding that they vacate the property in 30 days.

Kaiser Permanente had signed a lease to open a health clinic in the space. But after the news of the eviction was made public and subsequent community outrage, the landlord and Kaiser Permanente gave the businesses 90 days to move as well as relocation assistance.

The hits kept coming for the Crossroads Shopping Center in 2016, when days later after the eviction notices, the longstanding Orchard Supply Hardware announced it would be closing. The store is currently liquidating its inventory, and is expected to close by the end of January.

What the store will be replaced with is unknown, as officials remain tight-lipped, citing ongoing negotiations.

But the resilient Watsonville community stepped up and showered the evicted businesses and their owners with support, especially during a "cash mob" event in March, when hundreds of shoppers convened in the Crossroads Shopping Center and helped clear inventory, as well as provide a financial boost, through their purchases.

As the year went on, most of the businesses opened in a new location, capped off by the grand opening of Kelly's Books, formerly Crossroads Books, in the Watsonville Square Shopping Center in early December.

Kaiser Permanente is expected to open its Watsonville health clinic in January.

And Watsonville did see a number of new businesses opening, with none quite as large as the 193,000-square-foot FedEx Ground shipping facility, which began operations on Sept. 9.

The new facility, which dramatically transformed the landscape of the former farm field, replaced the company’s former location at 165 Technology Drive.

Approximately 80 employees work at the site, and the company has said it will add to that number if necessary.

A grand opening celebration is scheduled for mid-January.

Watsonville's long-dormant downtown also began to show signs of revitalization in 2016, when Digital NEST moved into the Cabrillo College campus and the Fox Theater, closed since 2009, opened for a weekend in September for the Watsonville Film Festival, perhaps a preview for its future.

In this issue, we listed some of the top stories and photos of 2016. While not a comprehensive list, it points out the numerous celebrations, tragedies, new faces, retirements, head-scratchers and more that dominated the year.

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