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Work on what will be a community plaza area is underway at the Willows Shopping Center in Concord, Calif., on Friday, July 11, 2014. Two storefronts have been razed to make way for a pathway through the center that will lead to a community plaza. There are also additional renovations being made with the later this year as the target for completion. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group)

CONCORD -- A new beauty superstore is coming to the Willows Shopping Center, which is in the midst of a major renovation designed to make it more pedestrian-friendly.

City leaders say this project is the latest proof that, after a rough few years, business activity is once again strong in Concord.

Ulta Beauty, which carries high-end and drugstore makeup brands, hair, skin and bath products, perfume and beauty tools, is opening a 10,000-square-foot store in the Willows. The company also has stores in Brentwood and Dublin, and another is scheduled to open in Pinole.

Equity One, which has owned the shopping center since 2011, built a new space for Ulta, and the store should be open by November, according to Mary Hunter, property manager at the Willows.

Shoppers will notice other big changes at the 37-year-old shopping center on Diamond Boulevard. Equity One demolished the former Willows Theater Company space to make room for an expansion of the UFC gym.

The company also tore down two storefronts to put in a lane through the middle of the shopping center that leads to a plaza. Visitors will be able to drive or walk along the new "Main Street."

"When you approach the center, obviously you can't see what's on the other side," Hunter said. "This gives it a more open feel where people can walk through instead of walking around or through the maze of buildings."

Equity One is also updating the storefront facades and putting in new sidewalks, among other aesthetic touches.


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"I just think it's the beginning of a new look for the Willows," Hunter said. "But the feel overall is community. It's about the community being able to come here and enjoy themselves and have a nice place to shop and eat."

The city has been working hard to bring in new retail like Ulta. At a recent City Council meeting, Victoria Walker, Concord's director of community and economic development, explained that staffers in her department work with commercial real estate brokers and property owners to attract businesses. In addition to Ulta, recent successes include Pacific Plaza Imports, a caviar and fine foods importer in Pittsburg that is building a warehouse on Willow Pass Road; Concord Mazda; and Hobby Lobby. Staffers are working with the ownership group of the former Marie Callender's and Peppermill restaurant properties to lure new eateries to those sites, Walker said.

The city also is pursuing the burgeoning biotech industry, both for existing commercial spaces and looking ahead to the civilian development of the Concord Naval Weapons Station.

Finally, Walker explained that events at Todos Santos Plaza do double duty by bringing residents together and showcasing Concord's assets to the business community. Owners of Capriotti's Sandwich Shop, The Pig & the Pickle taproom and the soon-to-open Hop Grenade Taproom & Bottleshop were introduced to Concord through the downtown gatherings, Walker said.

"We attract more than 150,000 people annually to these downtown events, and that translates into customers who patronize and learn about our downtown businesses," she said.

Lisa P. White covers Concord and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.