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An empty shell occupies 9,500 addresses across the Sacramento region %u2013 one closed business for every six still open, according to a Bee analysis of U.S. Postal Service data.

That’s more dormant businesses than in 17 entire states, including Utah, Arkansas and New Mexico.

You can see it on Madison Avenue in Fair Oaks, where Mike Castagnola is liquidating his party supply store, counting down the final days on a business with a 30-year run.

It’s just as apparent on Lake Tahoe Boulevard, the main strip cutting through South Lake Tahoe, where James Dalton counts five vacant businesses within sight of his antiques shop %u2013 and plans to add his store to that number.

And it’s vivid along Main Street in Woodland, where Jill Caunedo happily ran a bagel and coffee shop %u2013 until about two weeks ago.

“Thirty percent of all the businesses (on Main Street) are vacant,” Caunedo said, adding that she is left to sell her former cafe’s equipment for a quarter on the dollar.

A glut of empty businesses means less sales tax revenue for the four-county region, fewer jobs, fewer shopping options, less commercial construction, plenty of thwarted dreams.

It also makes for depressing scenes during the morning commute: the empty Hollywood Video, for instance, near Folsom Boulevard and Howe Avenue, with its large red sign fruitlessly offering “New DVDs for Sale“; the health store just down the road surrounded by vacant storefronts and halfheartedly removed gang graffiti.

No California county has a higher proportion of shuttered businesses than Sacramento, according to the data. Placer County ranks third.

As of September, the number of dormant addresses in Sacramento, Yolo, Placer and El Dorado counties had jumped more than 50 percent during the recession, according to the postal service data, which logs formerly occupied commercial addresses %u2013 office and retail %u2013 where mail has not been picked up for more than 90 days.

There is some hope. Besides a nebulous optimism that the economy may have bottomed out, commercial rents have fallen sharply as supply exceeds demand. Entrepreneurs with cash can get a deal and jump-start a new business.

But cautious and troubled banks aren’t granting many loans to launch enterprises. Many businesses and offices are stuck with rents they can’t afford, while relocation costs keep them from moving. And consumers and companies have changed their spending patterns, growing accustomed to smaller offices and brown-bag lunches.

“Retail’s pretty much been the hardest hit,” said Garrick Brown, research director for the Sacramento office of real estate firm Colliers International. “The pool of new businesses is gone %u2026 and small business lending has fallen off the cliff.”

Collateral damage

Behind all of these vacant businesses are thousands of small, personal decisions, most of them justifiable %u2013 even necessary %u2013 in a sour economy.

In Woodland, for instance, “People just gave up their once-a-week coffee,” said Caunedo, the entrepreneur who ran Bagel City until its recent closing.

Besides selling coffee and bagels from her Main Street shop, Caunedo relied heavily on catering. Her biggest customers were the city of Woodland, the local school district and nearby University of California, Davis.

Each of those public institutions shut the spigot amid budget woes. Caunedo doesn’t blame them: How can you justify serving quality bagels, for instance, at a meeting about whether to lay off teachers?

“In January 2008, all the catering just came to a screeching halt,” Caunedo said.

So Caunedo started laying off workers herself, going from seven to two. Many of her neighbors succumbed alongside her.

Just down the street from Caunedo’s cafe is the center of downtown Woodland, a quaint jewel of the Sacramento region, walkable and charming. But the shops there tend to sell art and antiques, not diapers and medicine, so the recession hit them hard. On just a half block of Main Street, for example, the body count of empty addresses is daunting %u2013 Nos. 503, 505, 507, 509, 511, 514, 516, 517, 518, 519, 535, all vacant.

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Call The Bee’s Phillip Reese, (916) 321-1137.

The commercial real estate market will provide the next wave of foreclosures. Check out the Sacramento Bee story.

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