An upscale restaurant where patrons could indulge in surf and turf. Closed. A chocolate factory with a regional profile and numerous employees. Shuttered. A beloved coffee shop. Locked up.
More than most communities, Clements has been rocked by the recession. Three major businesses on its short-but-homey main drag are gone.
"We are downtown," said Blue Ayers, day manager at the Old Corner Saloon about the bar's importance amid businesses closing down along the town's main traffic artery. Chocoholics Divine Desserts chocolate factory is flanked now by an empty parking lot. The 20,000-square-foot main structure is idle, a steel gate making entrance impossible.
Across the street, Lay's Restaurant, a popular coffee shop, and the Clements Feed and Fuel, an upscale eatery, are both closed.
Despite its location on a busy highway, and being the last stop for drivers headed east to gamble or play outdoors, downtown Clements has been battered by the economic meltdown. While thousands of vehicles roll through town on a daily basis, the traffic wasn't enough to sustain the factory and restaurants.
Business owners, workers and community leaders cited economic woes as the main reason for Clements' troubles.
"Tourism was the main attraction," said Cynthia Haynes, voluntary president of the Lockeford-Clements chamber of commerce. "The climate for small business is difficult."
As the economy limped along, the Domino effect was felt across Clements as Lay's Restaurant, Chocoholics Divine Desserts, and Clements Feed and Fuel closed down over the span of a few months.
Inside the closed parking lot of Clements Crossing, which was home to Feed and Fuel and an antique shop before the owners opted not to renew their lease, graffiti scars the front door of the vacant building.
"Part of the problem is there is so much blight," Haynes said. "People want to have more than one reason to stop. When the Chocolate Factory closed, fewer people went across the street for lunch."
Clements' seemingly prime location plays a role into its troubles as well.
"Since the speed limit is higher, people have a tendency not to stop," Haynes said. "If it's not easy or convenient, they will not stop." Haynes said the 55 mph speed limit makes it unlike most downtown thoroughfares, where motorists have more time to turn off or see what is available.
She said having a revitalization plan in place and connecting with business owners is vital to regenerating Clements. Haynes said 60 people participated in a community cleanup on Saturday, and they have also made positive action with their graffiti abatement program.
People in the community are on board with Haynes and want to see Clements rebound.
"I would rather spend my money where I live," said Steve Barh, who resides outside Clements but patronizes the local businesses and was having his Saturn sedan worked on at Out West Auto. "People need to support the locals."
Matt Barry's father owns Scooter's along Highway 88, as well as the Scooter's in San Andreas. Looking to expand the business, Barry said his father opened shop in Clements in April 2008. He said the location was chosen because the building was already set up to be a coffee shop and had the amenities they were looking for.
"There is plenty of traffic," he said. "It was a good spot to go into."
Barry said there are five employees, counting himself, at the coffee shop. There have been no layoffs, but workers have had their hours cut.
He said the wave of business closures is a cause for concern for himself and other business owners.
"We're surrounded by empty buildings," he said. "I'm worried people will just fly by."
At Out West Auto, owner Donny Holsworth was checking the battery on a Toyota truck while watching over his staff as they attended to the six cars in front of the shop.
Holsworth has not run any promotions to attract more business, but he benefits from the location and said most of his customers are long-established clients.
"We feed off the highway," he said.
The family operation, which has been in Clements for 13 years, opened another shop in Valley Springs earlier this year. Holsworth said it helps keep his eight total employees busy because he can shift them between the two shops depending on business.
In spite of it all, Barry, Holsworth and other business owners are finding reasons to be optimistic.
Ayers said business, although down a little bit, is still very good overall.
"People who used to get mixed drinks are now getting pitchers," she said.
She said the down economy is most notable during the day shift. She said the customers who made up the early afternoon crowd do not come in any more because they have lost their jobs.
"People are hurting," she said.
Ayers said the bar employs six people, and while no one has been let go, hours have been cut.
The situation is similar down the street at Webster's Country Burger Drive-In. Although the change of seasons has slowed business for the eatery, the manager isn't too concerned about fewer motorists headed for Camanche Reservoir or other summer hot spots.
"We still get the snowboarders and gamblers," said Trina Vier, manager at the drive-in.
She said workers had their hours cut by 30 percent, and while the staff went from eight workers to five, no one was laid off.
"People went off to find other jobs," she said.