Wrigley residents re-imagine Pacific Avenue business district with new banners, other improvements

CJ Dablo
Staff Writer

Pacific Avenue in Long Beach’s Wrigley neighborhood has seen a few recent efforts to revitalize the business district and neighborhoods, according to a few community leaders from the Wrigley Association and South Wrigley Neighborhood Advisory Group.
Their list: vintage-styled lampposts now line a stretch of Pacific; brightly colored banners will soon be hung to permanently decorate the street; and a community garden now grows where there used to be a building that had been destroyed after the Los Angeles riots.
But community leaders and residents at a meeting last week are hoping to ignite excitement in Wrigley. They’ve imagined that a stretch of Pacific Avenue, just north of Pacific Coast Highway up to Hill Street, can be transformed into more than the string of commercial buildings that line the street right now. Community leaders are also hoping that business leaders from Pacific Avenue will join their efforts.
“We want it to look like a place that people are going to want to come to, stop and shop and stay,” said Sam Portillo, a Wrigley resident who also serves on the Wrigley Association’s board of directors.
Portillo was among the group of 20-plus people who gathered Aug. 4 at the Wrigley Community Police Center to hear how business leaders from Bixby Knolls revitalized their own business district nearly two decades ago. Blair Cohn, who serves as the executive director of the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association (BKBIA), shared at the Wrigley Village’s Thursday night’s meeting how Bixby Knolls started to improve their neighborhood.
“We’re not the Promised Land yet,” Cohn said, as he described how Bixby Knolls is still trying to attract both professional and retail businesses to Bixby Knolls.
“But,” he added, “we try every trick we can think of to activate it, to get on the radar, to…make it attractive to new business.”
Cohn said in last week’s meeting that their association began with their efforts to physically clean up their streets.
“One of the key things that I learned was don’t wait and don’t expect the city to do everything for you.It won’t happen. If you wait, you’re going to spend a lot of time waiting. It’s very important as business owners and residents, you have to take ownership of your area yourself,” Cohn said, detailing how the association hired contractors to pull weeds, cut trees, and pick up trash. Others would look after graffiti and clean up what taggers left behind.
Cohn described how the efforts to create a neighborhood community in Bixby Knolls directly tied to increasing business for the local establishments. He recounted the clubs that were formed to create social networks among the Bixby Knolls residents and business leaders. They gathered in the local establishments to dine together. They heard an author speak at a literary society meeting. They organized walking tours where residents would drop in at the local coffee shop and other businesses along the way. Soon, First Fridays formed where locals could hear music or view art at the events hosted by the businesses along Atlantic Avenue.
At the Aug. 4 meeting, Cohn didn’t formulate a plan for Wrigley residents to copy Bixby Knolls’ activism. He wasn’t there to tell Wrigley residents what to do, he said, but he did have a few ideas to help Wrigley residents imagine what their neighborhood could be like.
“It would be unthinkable to try to make Pacific Avenue like a cookie-cutter Irvine shopping district, because there’s so much character in these buildings, so much character on the street and so much history,” Cohn said.
A few attendees at the meeting pointed out an art deco building on the street and key landmarks on Pacific, and others emphasized concerns over crime and safety. Some lamented how things used to be in the neighborhood.
Gita Patel, who, with her husband, has owned Allied Rexall Drugs on Pacific Avenue for the last 30 years, remembered what her neighborhood used to be like. It used to be a safe area, she said, as she described how the Wrigley neighborhood used to feel more family-friendly.
“But in the last ten years, I see a change where it’s drastically just declining, declining. The whole neighborhood has changed…I think a lot of traffic just moved in. The older people that owned good homes moved out because they were scared,” she said. To emphasize her point about feeling unsafe in her own neighborhood, Patel added that once she and her husband were held up at gunpoint. They now close their pharmacy early.
There’s a melting pot of shops and businesses in that area. Over a couple of blocks of Pacific Avenue, residents can stroll past a cigar shop, a dry cleaner, a beauty salon, a panaderia, a cocktail bar, and a Chinese restaurant. Early that evening, there were few people on the sidewalk. Many shops were already dark before 8:30pm.
No business leaders that Thursday night said they would commit to forming any kind of group that could support any plans along the lines of Bixby Knolls’ revitalization efforts.
Portillo acknowledged that the area needs a change, but he and others at the meeting acknowledged that they need leadership from both the residents and the business owners.
“Because it is a really cool area. It’s just been neglected,” Portillo said, addressing the small group. “I mean, you guys know that. But the problem is that it’s been neglected because we don’t do anything about it, and I’m not going to sit there and cry and say ‘How come you’re not doing something?’”

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