Though the economy may not have fully recovered yet, it appears that business owners see great potential in the local area and are investing in brick-and-mortar locations along local commercial corridors.
At least three new sit-down restaurants are expected to open up soon in Signal Hill and Bixby Knolls while some small-business retailers are either expanding or sprucing up their digs. From reviving old office buildings with new paint to fixing up façades to installing new roofs, every small improvement to the district keeps business humming, said Blair Cohn, executive director of the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association (BKBIA).
“We’re pretty excited right now about seeing new things coming to the neighborhood,” he said. “Every little improvement makes the whole district better. We’re seeing some good momentum. It’s pretty exciting.”
Some new eateries coming to town include a Yakitori-Izakaya-style Japanese restaurant and sushi bar to be called Atun at 4262 Atlantic Ave., expected to open up in the next three weeks, and Weiland Brewery Restaurant, known for its draft beer and American fare, looking to relocate from downtown Los Angeles to Claiborne Drive and Atlantic Avenue, Cohn said.
In Signal Hill, a new Applebee’s Neighborhood Bar and Grill at 889 E. Spring St. is scheduled to open on Oct. 14 and has already started hiring for a staff of more than 135 employees. The restaurant, known for a broad menu of seafood, pasta, sandwiches, salads and soups, will be accepting applications and conducting interviews through Oct. 4 in search of hosts, servers, bartenders, carside to-go specialists, food expediters, line cooks and dishwashers.
Damasio Alvarez, director of operations in Southern California for Apple American Group LLC, said in an email that the restaurant expects a “very busy opening” with a weekly clientele of more than 6,000 guests. The company sees “great opportunities” in the Signal Hill location, he added.
“What a better way to have presence in the market,” Alvarez said. “We do have two units in Orange County, but our goal is to continue growing the brand in the LA County area.”
While a local Ralphs grocery store and an Orchard Supply Hardware in Bixby Knolls have closed, leaving some rather large vacancies to fill, other retailers have indicated they plan on staying.
Local Signal Hill city officials said managers for Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market, which is being purchased by investment firm The Yucaipa Companies, have indicated that the four locations in Long Beach, including the store at 3300 Atlantic Ave. in California Heights, in addition to the Signal Hill store at 2475 Cherry Ave., will remain open. Brendan Wonnacott, spokesperson for Fresh & Easy, confirmed in an email that the only store bound to close in the local area is the location in Paramount. In addition, reports indicate that Yucaipa is purchasing 150 of the 200 Fresh & Easy stores in the United States, leaving 50 stores slated for closure.
Signal Hill Mayor Mike Noll said the district manager for Fresh & Easy has indicated that some of the top stores may become Wild Oats, and others will sell Wild Oats products. He said, in addition to Paramount, other stores slated for closure are located in Huntington Beach, Rancho Mirage and Arizona, but the Signal Hill store will remain open and is ranked 18th out of 200 stores.
“The managers are always working hard there,” Noll said. “I’m real proud of ours. It seems like it’s right there on the top.”
In Bixby Knolls, other retailers have already settled in, including Sweet and Saucy Shop, a bakery known for high-end cakes and baked goods for weddings and special events along with their “mini desserts.” The business purchased and moved into a building at 3722 Atlantic Ave. in August, expanding from their prior location in east Long Beach of four years. Nearby, two new women’s clothing stores opened their doors recently: Vintage Life and Trance on Atlantic.
At the same time, some existing stores are either expanding or upgrading their storefronts.
Earlier this summer, Christy Pardini, who owns Bella Cosa, an eco-friendly shop that sells recycled, hand-made items, expanded into the space next door with her business partner Mia Romero to open a new women’s boutique called Clover.
Tuttle Cameras, which has been located in a 1920s building at 4019 Atlantic Ave. for the past 67 years, recently revamped its location by re-stuccoing the walls, installing new air-conditioning systems, outside lighting and a new ceiling, while adding colorful, photographed art that wraps around the front windows and makes the front door look like the entrance to a photo booth.
The business also replaced a back building that was once used as a photo lab with a brand-new parking lot. Eric Vitwar, owner of the camera shop, said he hopes to use the back lot for special events, such as projecting movies onto the back wall.
Considered one of the only specialty camera shops in the region after big-box retailers and other stores have downsized or closed over the years, Tuttle Cameras has had to change with the photography industry, now offering a mixture of digital and film, he said. Still, many single-lens reflex (SLR) digital cameras have come down in price significantly and are now able to capture both video and still photos, Vitwar said.
Though people don’t print nearly as many photographs as they used to, mainly because of the popularity of sharing photos on online social-media sites such as Facebook and Instagram, what has helped him stay in business is offering a more “relational” customer service that large retailers don’t offer, he said.
“We have more customers than we’ve ever had,” Vitwar said. “I think the customers see our genuine relationships, that we’re not just here to sell them a camera. We can sell you a tripod, but we want you to be happy.”
Vitwar said he’s also been encouraged by the many strides that Bixby Knolls has seen in recent years, especially with the help of the BKBIA and other neighborhood groups helping to tie the community in with local businesses by organizing bike rides, First Fridays art walks and other events.
Cohn said the BKBIA board, which approved its operating budget in August, has already started planning to make running the operation more sustainable and cost-effective for years to come.
In recent years, many of the streetscape and façade improvements in Bixby Knolls have been funded by redevelopment money, but after the State abolished redevelopment nearly two years ago, those funds will no longer be available.
The State has approved a contract between the BKBIA and the former Long Beach Redevelopment Agency (RDA) to provide the association with $200,000 annually in redevelopment at least until 2020. Cohn said, however, that the board is starting to plan now for when RDA funds eventually dry up.
Some proposals so far include moving the BKBIA offices to the City-owned Expo Arts Center building to save costs on renting space and possibly raising the assessment fee on businesses to increase revenues, Cohn said. He added that staff would also continue to do what they have been doing, which is relying on volunteers to help improve the area and keep it moving in the right direction.
“The plan is to start thinking in the future and how we’re going to raise revenue and try to save costs,” he said. “We have to be able to have money to continue the momentum when the redevelopment money goes away for good.”