The exodus of two big-box retailers– including Ralphs, which shuttered last month, and Orchard Supply Hardware (OSH), which is expected to close by August– was a major blow to the close-knit community of Bixby Knolls.
But now, it appears small businesses are taking the lead and are looking to plant roots along the business corridor that extends from 33rd Street to 46th Street along Atlantic Avenue and Long Beach Boulevard, just north of the 405 Freeway.
Attracted by a nascent communal spirit of business-friendliness, several small retail shops, including a few new restaurants, are filling up once vacant buildings, creating an eclectic blend of storefronts.
Some have been enticed to relocate from other parts of the city, including Long Beach Roller Sport, which has recently opened at 3974 Atlantic Ave. after moving from the Cal State Long Beach area on Palo Verde Avenue, and a bakery known as Sweet and Saucy Shop, which is set to celebrate its grand opening on Saturday, Aug. 3 from noon to 4pm.
Beth Giles, who moved to the area six years ago, has recently opened a vintage-clothing store called Salvage Life at 3712 Atlantic Ave. after first starting it as an online store.
“It’s a beautiful neighborhood,” she said. “This street used to be really popular. Back in the ‘50s, this was like the place to go. It has kind of slowly died, and now it’s getting this new birth. I’ve been amazed at how many customers come in and have commented about how so many new businesses are coming in, and they’re excited about it.”
Giles said she moved to the spot because she heard that Sweet and Saucy Shop was moving next door, hoping that the two businesses would complement each other. The business owner added that Bixby Knolls has been in desperate need of shopping destinations, especially with a new, younger clientele moving in.
“I just think that there’s a lot of young families and younger people moving into the area, and there isn’t very much shopping,” said Giles, whose store offers a mixture of modern and vintage clothing. “I wanted to create a store that I would shop at in this neighborhood and not have to drive far.”
Blair Cohn, executive director of the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association (BKBIA), admits that the vacancies left behind by Ralphs and OSH, which have both been located in Bixby Knolls for more than a decade, will be hard to fill.
But he said the corporate decisions to close the stores were in the making for years and the circumstances were out of his hands, adding that it’s unclear how the situations will play out. “It’s a bummer, but there isn’t anything we can do,” Cohn said.
The BKBIA, however, isn’t skipping a beat and continues to focus on keeping the community “attractive and vibrant,” he said. And it’s BKBIA’s popular events, such as the First Fridays Art Walk and the Kidical Mass bike rides, that have continued what locals have called a “renaissance,” Cohn said.
“I think things are getting better,” he said. “The more that we promote [businesses] and we connect the neighborhood to them and keep promoting Bixby Knolls as a whole, the more we are making it a neighborhood destination. The residents are coming back to the corridor, which has been the ultimate goal for the last five years.”
Another goal of the BKBIA is to keep the community safe. Cohn said the nonprofit organization has redirected redevelopment funds to hire CSI Patrol Service, which is a Bixby Knolls-based business. The patrol service was hired in October of last year after the BKBIA headquarters was burglarized.
The company will patrol the district after-hours three nights a week. The patrols will cover all major corridors (Atlantic Avenue, Wardlow Road, Long Beach Boulevard and San Antonio Drive), checking parking lots, alleys and any other “nooks and crannies” in search of any criminal activity.
Events such as Concerts in the Park(ing Lot) have drawn large crowds and businesses have been able to reap the benefits, he added. “When you get businesses to participate, and you get people dancing in the parking lot of an automotive repair [shop], it’s like we can have fun anywhere,” Cohn said. “Those are the things we focus on.”
Another event this summer was the third annual photo contest called Summer Shutters in which people take photographs of the Bixby Knolls community. He said all photographs, including the winning pics, will be displayed during the next First Fridays.
Melody Brandon, who owns Sweet and Saucy Shop with her mother, said she decided to relocate to 3722 Atlantic Ave. from her previous location of four years on Stearns Street because of the new spot’s size and prime location. She said the building, which previously housed a continuation school, is three times the size of her previous store and has plenty of parking.
Brandon said the new Bixby Knolls spot is now one of two locations after she opened another store in Newport Beach, where the idea of local residents stopping by for a “mini dessert,” such as small cupcakes, cake lollipops, French macaroons, mini cheesecakes and key-lime pies, has taken off.
She also plans for the store to be the primary spot for residents to pick up “high-end” cakes and cake platters for weddings, parties and special events, which is the operation’s main business.
“We’re basically hoping to be your neighborhood bakery where you can get a treat on an everyday basis and your high-end dessert shop, where you can go for your weddings and your parties and your special events,” Brandon said.
The bakery, she said, has been frequented by celebrity clientele, including Tori Spelling, and has been featured in pop-culture magazines and on TV shows such as TLC’s Fabulous Cakes.
Blair said new restaurants are also making their way to Bixby Knolls, including a Japanese-sushi fusion restaurant to be called Atun Restaurant at 4262 Atlantic Ave. and potentially another sit-down restaurant at Claiborne Drive and Atlantic Avenue by a restaurateur who plans to relocate from Little Tokyo in Los Angeles.
Talun Hsu, a producer and director of movies, television commercials and music videos who lives on the edge of Long Beach in Lakewood, said he plans to open Atun as an Izakaya-style restaurant, which is a Japanese drinking establishment that serves food to accompany drinks, often considered a casual place for after-work hours.
“It’s going to be like a casual, fine-dining concept,” he said. “Our food will be first-class quality, but the atmosphere will be a little bit more laid back. You can show up more casual and bring everybody you want to bring. It’s a place where the whole community can come by meet, enjoy quality food and have some drinks.”
Hsu said he plans to bring on board an executive chef named Yama, whom he has known for close to 20 years as a “traditional Japanese chef.” The nearly 2,000-square-foot restaurant is currently under construction, however, plans are for it to open sometime in August.