A new monthly event in north Long Beach seeks to draw attention to the historic Virginia Village business corridor, a seven-block commercial district that was once its own city located along a stretch of Long Beach Boulevard between East Market Street and the Los Angeles River overpass.
Replicating the concept of the now popular First Fridays Art Walk in Bixby Knolls, the new event called “Second Sundays in the Village” is being kicked off this Sunday, June 9 from 1pm to 4pm between 53rd Street and 56th Street.
Hosted on the second Sunday of every month, the event will include live entertainment, food, face painting, a moon bounce, snow cones, city services and a “mobile aquarium” being provided by the Aquarium of the Pacific. The main stage at Long Beach Boulevard and East Market Street will feature a line-up of musicians and dancers from the local community, including Latin, Cambodian and Samoan performers.
“It’s something I wanted to do actually before I came to office,” said 8th District Councilmember Al Austin, who organized the free event with the newly formed Virginia Village Business Association. “I see so much potential in Virginia Village not only for economic development but also for the opportunity to build community there.”
Before redevelopment agencies were abolished by the State last year, the City’s redevelopment agency invested more than $5 million in streetscape improvements along the business corridor and other parts of Long Beach Boulevard between Del Amo Boulevard and 56th Street. Projects included adding historic light medallions, street lighting, Virginia Village banners, parking, public art, medians, decorative crosswalk pavers, new concrete sidewalks, street trees and façade improvements.
The monthly event is a way to spotlight the redeveloped area, while bringing the neighborhood and business community closer together, something that Austin said hasn’t been done before.
“We’re doing some things that up to this point have not been done,” he said. “The redevelopment agency did a great job of really beautifying that corridor and with the investment in infrastructure, the lights, the streetscape and the façade improvements for the buildings. We’re taking it a step further by programming it and branding the community there.”
One longtime business is Katy’s Bakery, which has served cakes and Mexican pastries at 5417 Long Beach Blvd. for nearly 20 years. Business owner Norma Giorgi said she hopes the monthly event will bring new customers to the corridor that she said has “changed quite a bit in the last few years.”
“Hopefully it will encourage people to come out here,” she said. “It looks like the city is really investing in this area.”
The pedestrian-oriented area also has a sporting-goods store, barbershops, a florist, a doughnut shop, markets, retail clothing stores, a pawn shop, a mortuary and a furniture store. There are also Mexican restaurants, including Los Eduardos Restaurant and El Cortez Restaurant.
William Gonzalez, owner of Los Eduardos, which has been at its location for 15 years, said he’s not sure how the event will turn out, but he has been encouraged by the improvements the City has made to the streets and sidewalks.
“It looks a lot better than it used to,” he said. Gonzalez added in a statement provided by the City that, “Second Sundays in the Village is an opportunity to showcase the businesses along Long Beach Boulevard, and for the entire community to enjoy a fun time for the whole family. We invite everyone to come and experience the new Virginia Village.”
Many of the restaurants and businesses will be offering specials for the day and sales on the sidewalk, while participating in the activities. Martin Rodriguez, who opened BRG Photo & Video at 5304 Long Beach Blvd. nearly two months ago, said he is extending discounts for weddings and quinceañeras as well as the photo studio. He said he would like the event to eventually be expanded to more than just once a month.
The business corridor gets its name from its past, being that the area used to be its own city once known as Virginia City before it was annexed by the City of Long Beach in 1924. Many of the buildings have maintained their historic architectural exteriors, including some that have brick walls and Art Deco design.
As a way to highlight the area’s historic past, the 8th District office has funded a mural entitled “Memory Lane” at the corner of Long Beach Boulevard and Market Street. The mural to be unveiled during the event at 1pm was created by artists Gregory Navarro Pickens and Steve Elicker. With the help of the Long Beach Historical Society, the mural celebrates many of the historic buildings and landmarks that once graced the neighborhoods of north Long Beach.
Though the event is modeled after the concept of First Fridays, Austin pointed out that he wants Second Sundays to have its own “flavor.” He added that the event is one of many events he will be organizing this year as he hopes to spread city resources throughout the 8th District.
Austin said the cost of the event is “nominal” since the community, businesses and organizations have donated entertainment and other features for the event. He has also allocated a portion of his office’s budget. Austin added that the Aquarium is providing its Aquarium on Wheels at a steep discount, while other community sponsors for the event include the Long Beach Airport, Signal Hill Petroleum and the Port of Long Beach.
Austin added that in no way is the event or other events to be considered a replacement of the Bixby Knolls Car Show & Dragster Expo, which was cancelled by the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association (BKBIA) earlier this year after being led for nearly eight years by former 8th District Councilmember Rae Gabelich. The car show took nearly $50,000 to $72,000 to put on, costing $10,000 just to shut down the street.
Blair Cohn, executive director of the BKBIA, however, said First Fridays and other events, such as Concerts in the Park[ing Lot] and Kidical Mass bike rides have been a huge hit for attracting customers to the business district along Atlantic Avenue. He said businesses act as “carnival barkers” and “good hosts” to a couple thousand customers each first Friday of every month, which adds up to more business.
“If you have 12 First Fridays a year, with 2,500 people each month, do the math,” Cohn said. “That’s how people are coming back every year. It has a direct impact on the businesses and shopping. We’re connecting directly to the businesses.” ß