Close to 200 people showed up at a grassy lot on North McDowell Boulevard Thursday, May 2 to celebrate the groundbreaking of a future shopping center to be anchored by Friedman's Home Improvement Center.

All seven members of the City Council were present to witness the first tangible step toward building the 346,000 square foot Deer Creek Village shopping center. The groundbreaking came after a multi-year approval process and the threat of a lawsuit by the Petaluma Neighborhood Association, which claimed that the environmental impacts of the project had not been fully considered.

Some council members also expressed doubts over the project during the approval process due to concerns over traffic and environmental impacts. But despite a divided 4-3 vote to OK the project's environmental impact report, all the council members said they whole-heartedly supported Friedman's Home Improvement returning to Petaluma.

The popular home improvement store got its start in Petaluma 66 years ago with a store on East Washington Street. That store got underway when brothers Benny and Joe Friedman returned home from World War II and used the $4,000 they'd saved in army pay to buy a junkyard on the Petaluma River. The site included warehouse space and a 3,000-square-foot building that became the first Friedman Brothers store.

In 1976, the brothers learned that the old Petaluma building had become too dangerous to insure, and they were forced to shut down that location. They always planned to come back.

Lowe's Home Improvement was originally slated to be part of the Deer Creek Village center, but the company dropped out in the fall of 2011. Not long after, Friedman's signed on to take the spot as the anchor store in the development.

The developer of the site, Merlone Geier Partners, is in negotiations with several other prospective tenants as well but was not ready to announce any new leases on May 2.

At the ceremony on Thursday, owner Bill Friedman said, "The process took 37 years, but we are returning to our roots."

Friedman thanked his late father Benny, his late uncle Joe, and his uncle Harry, who was present, "in allowing us to be part of a fantastic reality that was once a dream. We are finally coming home again!"

Harry Friedman discussed his brothers' founding of the store following WWII, then predicted that the new store would be outstanding, saying, "Petaluma, you will not be disappointed!"

After initial work is completed this month, construction on the project is expected to start in June.

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