Nearly three and a half years ago, Christy Pardini opened up her small, eco-friendly shop Bella Cosa on Atlantic Avenue in Bixby Knolls with the idea of selling locally made items, mostly recycled from salvaged materials.
Since then, she has watched the business corridor morph from a once desolate strip of vacant storefronts into an active shopping destination, she said.
Now, Pardini has expanded with a new shop into the space next door with business partner Mia Romero. They recently opened Clover, a women’s boutique that offers “California casual” women’s clothing, an exclusive line of handcrafted jewelry, accessories and other items.
“Three and a half years ago, it was dead here,” said Pardini, who has lived in Bixby Knolls for four years. “That was when I opened and, honestly, we looked everywhere… Now, obviously, I would do it in a heartbeat.”
While some businesses have closed in recent weeks, others have nestled in along the business corridor of Long Beach Boulevard and Atlantic Avenue, attracted by an untapped charm that continues to evolve, with new commercial developments and special events, such as First Fridays, that draw big crowds.
Blair Cohn, executive director for the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association (BKBIA), said business activity on Atlantic Avenue has picked up this year, with a new jewelry store opening and a cupcake bakery known as Sweet & Saucy Shop relocating from Stearns Street in Los Altos next month.
Some new tenants are now able to invest in buildings, whether to buy property or pay for tenant improvements, which he said signifies many are in it for the long haul. Professional-service businesses, such as doctors, attorneys and real-estate agents, which make up about 85 percent of BKBIA’s membership, have also made the move to uptown, such as the Law Offices of Kuper & Wilson, which has purchased its building at 4344 Atlantic Ave., Cohn said.
“We’re really happy that people are actually buying buildings and investing into the neighborhood,” he said. “We’re always trying to see how we can sell spaces, both office and retail, and just continue to make Bixby Knolls vibrant, clean, safe and active so it is attracting new business.”
New commercial developments in Bixby Knolls are also on track, including a project by developer Howard CDM at the corner of Long Beach Boulevard and Bixby Road, the former site of Long Beach Cyclery that has relocated next door.
Although the project is still in the early planning stages, a lobbying effort has already surfaced to entice Michael’s Pizzeria to open a third location at the spot once the building is completed. Cohn said the BKBIA has recently launched a campaign on Facebook for residents to email restaurant owner Michael Dene indicating their desire for a Bixby Knolls location.
“Michael wants to know that there would be a market for it,” Cohn said. “Timing is everything, and so are resources, but we want him to know that we want him up here… Variety is the spice of life.”
Dene currently operates two Michael’s Pizzeria locations in Long Beach (one on 2nd Street in Belmont Shore and another on 3rd Street in downtown) in addition to his Italian restaurant Michael’s on Naples. Dene could not be reached for comment before the Signal Tribune’s deadline.
Next door, Howard CDM has completed extensive renovations to a building on the 3700 block of Long Beach Boulevard, which now houses the developer’s offices on the top floor and Long Beach Cyclery and a Pilates studio on the bottom floor.
Starr Scott, owner of Five Starr Pilates & Fitness at 3750 Long Beach Blvd., said she was able to open the studio after meeting Martin Howard, president and CEO of Howard CDM, a cyclist who had begun taking Pilates once a week after a ski injury, she said.
“It was just kind of meant to be,” said Scott, who added that she had been looking for a location for about a year before sealing the deal in Bixby Knolls. The Wrigley neighborhood resident said she had been a stay-at-home mom operating a daycare for the past 20 years before embarking on her dream of opening a real studio.
“Because of the economy, I think owners weren’t ready to fork up a bunch of money to improve their space for a brand-new startup business that they weren’t sure of,” she said. “I’m a startup, so obviously there’s a big risk for a landlord, but we had some common friends. He’s a cyclist, and we have indoor cycling.”
Cohn added that new restaurants are also moving to uptown. He said construction is underway for a Spanish-and-Japanese sushi-fusion restaurant being built for local chef David Santiago, who previously ran the now closed Suba Sushi & Tapas Lounge at 3550 Long Beach Blvd.
Some businesses, however, have closed their doors in recent weeks, including French restaurant Creperie La Rue that had only been open at 4280 Atlantic Ave. for about a year. Cohn called the restaurant’s closure a “mystery,” adding that it has “closed its doors as quietly as it has opened its doors.” He added, “We’re trying to find out from the business owner, who still has the lease, what his plans are for that.”
In addition, the Ralphs grocery store at 4250 Long Beach Blvd. has recently announced that it plans to close in June.
Still, Cohn said it’s the diversity of businesses in Bixby Knolls that will help them feed off of each other. Though the annual Bixby Knolls Car Show and Dragster Expo was cancelled this year, the office of 8th District Councilmember Al Austin and the BKBIA are planning several events that Cohn said will likely draw in customers.
Cohn said four separate Concerts in the Park(ing lot) are scheduled, in addition to a block party and a photo contest called Summer Shutters 3.0 in June.
“If we stay on the same course, we’re going to keep attracting business here,” he said. “There’s always going to be ups and downs, and retail will come and go. We just have to support everybody who’s here, keep attracting new ones and make it the best place we can.”
For Pardini, clientele are mostly from Bixby Knolls and Signal Hill, but she hopes some will come from the “outskirts” to shop at her new boutique due to its proximity to nearby professional services. “We have a lady who comes every six months when she has her dental appointment,” she said. “She’ll come and shop at Bella Cosa, so I’m sure she’ll shop here as well.”
The boutique Clover, which plays off of the eco-friendly theme of Bella Cosa, is decorated with rusty street signs from Long Beach, and most clothing is made in California or elsewhere in the United States, which she said cuts down on the merchandise’s “carbon footprint.” Among the U.S.-made brands currently carried by Clover are Natural Life, featuring clothes made of modal, a textile made from fibers of the beech tree, as well as premium jeans by Articles of Society.
One of the big draws for customers, Pardini hopes, is this month’s First Fridays, which is when the boutique will offer tamales and have musical entertainment.
Pardini said she opened the boutique because Bixby Knolls lacks clothing stores, adding that she hopes the corridor continues to become even more diverse as more businesses open in the future.
“Bixby Knolls doesn’t have, as far as clothing stores, that much to offer,” she said. “There’s a couple like AndyLiz, Marshalls, Ross and Target but no real specialty boutique. So that’s really what made us do it… If I had enough money, there are so many things that we are in need of up here, I would open up a store for every one of them.”