A major retail presence is departing as Guitar Center prepares to move its El Cerrito location to Emeryville at the end of the month.

The national chain, which has been at 10300 San Pablo Ave. for about 15 years, will close that store on Jan. 28 with the new store in the Public Market in Emeryville opening on Feb. 2.

The local presence was successful but no longer fit the chain's needs, said city senior economic development program manager Dwayne Dalman.

"The new prototype is to have a larger store," he said. "The second concern is that they want to have sites be a regional draw."

With the lease nearing its end, El Cerrito worked to try and accommodate those needs and retain the store, but couldn't compete with the higher profile Emeryville, which has a commercial concentration in the shadow of the MacArthur Maze.

"We did our best to find them a location in El Cerrito," Dalman said. "We sat down and asked is there another site where we can help them build a new building. But they felt Emeryville would have much more of a regional presence."

Store manager Chad Zammuto said the new location will be the first location in the Bay Area to have the chain's new layout.


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"We're introducing Guitar Center Studios," he said. "We're going to be teaching piano, guitar, bass, drums, vocals. It's a separate part of the store. It's going to be open later than the store. We're going to have rehearsal spaces. Eventually were going to have recording workshops."

The store is moving into space in the Public Market that was formerly a Border's Books. Guitar Center will be using 18,000 square feet of the 30,000-square-foot space.

The building in El Cerrito has more overall square footage including its large basement, but only 12,000 square feet of available retail space, Zammuto said. The larger retail area in Emeryville will allow Guitar Center to increase its inventory.

The bigger issue, Zammuto said, was the condition of the existing location.

"This building is completely falling apart," he said. "From the outside, it looks really bad. This building has been here since the early '50s."

The building originally housed the Safeway grocery in El Cerrito until 1971 and then a fabric store.

"It's just an old building in an old area," Zammuto said. "There's no traffic flow here. People only come down here if they're specifically going to Guitar Center. As opposed to in Emeryville where it's a retail environment. We've been trying to do this for five years or more."

Zammuto said the specific store has bounced around over the years, having been located in Berkeley before moving to El Cerrito and spending some time in Oakland as well.

One of the changes in the layout is to have the DJ gear and accessories in the front of the store.

"In the other layout, the guitars and accessories are in the front so people don't even realize that we have sound accessories (for DJs)," Zammuto said.

The increased retail space will mean inventory goes from the middle of the pack in the chain to just under the level of the biggest stores, the manager said. That includes more high-end models.

The national chain is known for selection and price.

"We've got 220-plus stores at this point," Zammuto said. "Musicians are going to go where they get the best price. Plus traveling musicians know that there's one in every town."

The old location is going out with a bang. A moving sale is being held to clear out the floor models.

Dalman, meanwhile, said the city is working with the property owner to fill the vacancy.

"We are working to identify other good uses for that site," he said. "We think it's a good area with some strong retail businesses around there. We take it as a high priority to help find another tenant."