ANTIOCH -- An influx of auto-oriented shops has helped boost business in a corridor once hit hard by vacancies.
The departure of several Antioch auto dealerships on West 10th Street east of Auto Center Drive over the past decade left parts of the area in disarray. Vacant buildings were left boarded up, barricaded by chain-link fences, susceptible to graffiti and overtaken by weeds in the parking lots.
But several businesses have gobbled up the empty storefronts over the past couple of years -- the largest project being Mike's Auto Body at the corner of 10th and Auto Center.
"It's slowly getting better, and does look much nicer," said Michelle Hatch, property manager at nearby Crestview Pines apartments.
"It seems like there's more life down here and people coming down here to do business," added Brennan Rose, vice president of Mike's Auto Body. "There's definitely a more positive attitude."
The corridor traditionally was an entrance point into the East Contra Costa city. Several auto dealerships, including Mazzei Pontiac Cadillac GMC, Antioch Nissan and Dodge and Al Eames Ford lined the street. Over the years, the businesses moved to locations with greater visibility and access from Highway 4.
Rose says the area has always seemed steady and clean, but things tipped when the economy slowed in the late 2000s.
Mike's Auto Body opened its business in Antioch in 2004, renovating the corner location where Antioch Dodge had been six years later.
"It was blighted and wasting away, really. We were kind of left thinking who would want to do anything with that," Mayor Jim Davis said.
The private investment in the area has a "broken window theory effect," City Manager Jim Jakel said, in which successful business ventures encourage others to locate in the area and discourages blight.
Mike's has "really kind of jump-started everything and created a new synergy down there," Davis said.
Before the construction of Mike's, Jim's Auto Body moved into the old Mazzei dealership. A Maaco auto repair store recently opened on the north side of 10th Street where Mike's had previously operated.
Meanwhile, Valero reopened a gas station a couple years ago on the northwest corner of Auto Center and 10th, and auto rental franchises Enterprise and Hertz have also opened locations where they sell cars retired from their rental fleets.
"When we first moved here and you looked down that corridor, it was kind of depressing," said Sal Contreras, marketing director for Mike's Auto Body. "But now it looks pretty sweet."
"It's definitely an industrial area," said Mike Sayedi, who opened Precision Auto Body about a year ago. The building, formerly a car dealer, had sat empty for several years.
Sayedi, who rents another building owned by Mike's Auto Body, is looking for more space, Rose said.
The former Ford dealer farther to the east on 10th had been filled by a motocross dealer, but has since been vacated.
Despite the improvements, the neighborhood still has its share of problems, including some vacant lots and a sizable homeless population that gathers at nights.
"It's nice that (Mike's) is there hustling and bustling Monday through Friday, but if we didn't have a guard at nights, we'd have problems," Hatch said.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.