In just a few weeks– on Dec. 17– Blair Cohn will celebrate his 10th anniversary of serving as executive director for the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association (BKBIA). He’s been around to witness the consequences of the economic downturn at the start of his tenure. He’s seen several longtime local businesses close their doors after decades of serving the public.
However, he has also observed the district undergo a significant transformation, as well as the landscape of types of business change.
“We’re far better off what we are now than what we were 10 years ago, no question,” he said in a recent interview with the Signal Tribune at the BKBIA office. Cohn also described many of the changes taking place in the Bixby Knolls area, including much renovation in spots formerly occupied by businesses that have either closed or moved.
First focusing on the northern part of the business district, Cohn said a dental office has joined the shopping center where Aldi market and CVS pharmacy are located. He added that the area has no shortage of dental offices, since another has recently moved into a space on Carson Street and Atlantic Avenue, occupying the last spot in the Bixby Point center. For some time, a Smart & Final has been expected to open in Orchard Supply Hardware’s former location, but Cohn said it could be late 2018 before that chain of warehouse-style food and supply stores opens a location there.
Just south of that area, George’s ‘50s Diner is being renovated, after a two-alarm fire broke out there on Dec. 16, 2016. Cohn said the adult children of the owners are stepping up to oversee the construction and re-opening of the iconic eatery.
“Now the kids are going to be more involved with the business, and I hope that it presents more of an open dialogue between us and the business so we can give them a push and help them out any way we can,” Cohn said.
He added that he hopes the restaurant will be reopened sometime in the beginning of the new year.
As for Nicky’s, a sporting-goods store that will occupy the former site of a furniture store on Atlantic Avenue, Cohn said he recently saw them loading merchandise into the business.
“They tore out all the old electrical and put in new electrical,” Cohn said. “They put in a new bathroom. They’re kind of fine-tuning that old building.”
Another restaurant, EJ Malloy’s, also got a “facelift” recently, just in time for the World Series games a month ago.
Liberation Brewing, at the former location of a 98 Cent store on Atlantic, is “full steam ahead,” according to Cohn.
“All the heavy work is being done right now,” he said. “They’re trenching new plumbing. They’re building the structures inside.”
He expects that brewery to also be ready for customers at the beginning of 2018.
Another brewery, Ambitious Ale, will take over the former space of Tuttle Cameras, also on Atlantic.
Cheese Addiction, in the 4200 block of Atlantic, has been going through approvals and has replaced plumbing and electrical work. Cohn said that particular business is expected to have a soft opening for the holidays but should be fully in business in January.
West Bistro, formerly Café Bixby and The Breakfast Club, is also undergoing work and is expected to become a small version of a food court, with several options for patrons at one site.
At 3853 Atlantic, the former site of Nino’s Italian restaurant, the new owner is currently working with the City, which often takes longer than planned, Cohn noted, and the site should undergo construction soon.
“[The owner’s] plan is: approvals, bids, get his contractors, start building out, and while he’s doing that, aggressively go after the tenants,” Cohn said. “And we’ve sent him a number of leads to pursue, and we’ll continue to help him with that, too.”
Cohn said there’s a potential tenant for the former Abrams & Clark space, but he couldn’t yet indicate who, since they were in lease negotiations.
Laserfiche has purchased the land on Long Beach Boulevard at 35th Street, a vacant oil property that the company will soon begin cleaning up to expand onto with a new campus.
“I’ve seen some renderings of the proposed building, and I think it’s going to be beautiful, and we’ll have a much nicer gateway into the district from Long Beach Boulevard,” Cohn said.
He added that that area is further being cultivated, currently with the development of concepts for painting nearby oil tanks and a Boy Scouts project to improve the landscaping.
Farther north on Long Beach Boulevard, the former Hof’s Hut property will be renovated back into its former look as an Edward Killingsworth design but is expected to serve as another multi-eatery establishment, like West Bistro and Steelcraft.
“The reality is this is where it’s at, meaning the 15,000-square-foot steakhouse is not the model anymore,” Cohn said, adding that what is more in vogue is for local operators to offer multiple choices at one site, where customers can take it to go, eat within a few minutes or stay and socialize. “It’s fast-casual.”
As for businesses already serving customers, Cohn mentioned a few “unique” places that have been doing well, including The Bixby Trading Post, The Merchant bakery and coffee shop, and The Green Olive, which is inside Liquorland.
Baja Sonora is also undergoing a makeover, Cohn said, and brand-new to the area is Mitaki on Atlantic Avenue, serving poke and sushi.
The executive director said the BKBIA is planning to revamp some of its community programs, but he is not certain exactly how or to what degree. However, he is excited about the anniversaries of two that have been successful. In January, the Bixby Strollers walking group will be 10 years old, and, in February, the Bixby Literary Society book club will celebrate its 10th anniversary.
During the interview, which took place just days before Small-Business Saturday, Cohn reiterated what he often emphasizes when discussing local retailers, eateries and services– that the City and the business district invest in these entities, but local residents must do the rest by patronizing them.
“The neighborhood has to invest in it– ‘it’ being a thriving neighborhood,” he said. “You can’t just drive up and down and go, ‘Gosh, I’m so happy to live here.’ You have to do your dry-cleaning and get your gas and do your hair and nails and get your car washed and do your shopping [here], and you have to take the time and not be online shopping on Amazon.”
He acknowledged the ease of purchasing gifts on the Internet but stressed that shopping locally provides opportunities to interact with business owners. He also mentioned that many of the local merchants live and volunteer in the Bixby Knolls area, contributing to a sense of “Mayberry” that most other parts of Long Beach lack.
“I look at the faces of these entrepreneurs, and it is the American Dream,” Cohn said. “You don’t have to be in Middle America and own a mom-and-pop shop for it to be the American Dream. It can be right here in Long Beach, California.”