MORAGA — New businesses could be on their way to the struggling Rheem shopping center.
The town has approved three use permit applications for spaces at the center, which in recent years has seen declining foot traffic and numerous store closures.
"Anything is positive," said Town Manager Mike Segrest. "Three new tenants in one month is pretty amazing."
Last month's reopening of the landmark movie house as the New Rheem Theatre gave the center jolt.
With the possibility of three new stores, things are moving in the right direction, said Chamber of Commerce President Edy Schwartz.
"There's excitement," she said. "There are other stores that are thinking about (opening) that aren't as far along on the planning process, so there's energy coming toward this, and of course the more stores that we get, the more energy and the more people (we get) into the area."
One of the applications is for a Mediterranean restaurant operated by Moraga resident Michael Erez. He said the eatery will offer food not found elsewhere in town, such as falafel and shawarma, as well as a space for local bands, comedians and other performers.
"We are intending to have it "... not just as a restaurant (but) as a place that people can gather together and have fun," Erez said.
A second application is for Los Hermanos Cortez Lopez, a family-owned produce and small grocery store that also has locations in Walnut Creek and Concord, said Dave Schnayer, a local broker who has been working with both Erez and the produce store owners.
Erez said he hoped to open his restaurant by the end of November.
Erez has also filed an application for a "sweets shop" in the Rheem center that will serve pastries, coffee and smoothies.
Although rumors have been floating around town that a dollar discount store also may be coming, Planning Director Lori Salamack said she has not had discussions about such a business and no application has been filed.
The optimism at the Rheem center is a far cry from earlier this year, when Segrest referred to Rheem center owner Kimco Realty as an "absentee landlord" and several tenants said it was nonresponsive to their concerns.
Segrest said he was encouraged by the discussions with Kimco and its new Rheem property manager, John Welter.
"I think (Kimco is) very interested in turning the center around and working hard to do so," he said.
Contact Jonathan Morales at 925-943-8048. Follow him at Twitter.com/sosaysjonathan.