BY NICK DIAMANTIDES
The nation’s economic recession is not over yet, and Christmas is just around the corner, but things are gradually getting better for Bixby Knolls businesses, according to Blair Cohn, executive director of the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association (BKBIA). He noted that the area is now gearing up for the next phase of the work plan developed by Hyatt Palma, a consulting firm hired by the Long Beach Redevelopment Agency early this year.
Cohn said revitalizing the area is being done in phases. “The first step was to engage the community and bring people back to the (Atlantic Avenue and Long Beach Boulevard) corridors,” he said. “That has been going on for some time now, and more and more people are participating in the events that we have here.”
He noted that BKBIA’s newest program, the supper club, has been wildly successful. “It’s a simple concept,” he said. “Monday nights are typically slow for restaurants, so we decided to give people a reason to fill up a particular restaurant on that night.” The program started in March at E.J. Malloy’s. The restaurant reserved 50 seats for the occasion. Seventy people showed up. “Since then, we have had no less than 100 come to the supper club every time we held it,” Cohn said. “We’ve had restaurants sell out, and we had to do two nights in one restaurant.”
He explained that the supper club is a social event that gives people a chance to spend time with their neighbors and make new friends while enjoying good food. The goal is to have a supper club dinner in every restaurant in Bixby Knolls. “We are rotating, trying to do large and small restaurants,” Cohn said. “Of course the restaurateurs are thrilled.”
Cohn added that First Fridays– the once-a-month art and entertainment event in Bixby Knolls– is growing too. “In August, we got a $7,500 grant from the Connected Corridor and were able to bring on Victoria Wells to coordinate First Fridays,” he said, adding that the Connected Corridor also gave $2,500 grants to the Long Beach Historical Society, the Long Beach Shakespeare Company and Alive Theatre to work together with the BKBIA to make First Fridays a more exciting event. Wells, who promoted Alive Theatre productions for some time, was selected to coordinate First Fridays.
“Victoria is great with social networking, and she works on it all month,” Cohn said. “She is doing a tremendous job of promoting First Fridays. She is getting more businesses to participate, and she is getting more artists to come here. All that has created more fun, and it is attracting more people.”
Cohn noted that the December 4 First Friday will be the second annual Bixby Knolls Christmas Tree and Menorah Lighting. “That will take place at Nino’s Restaurant in the garden,” he said.
Meanwhile, other Bixby Knolls events are still going strong. “We have our Bixby Knolls Strollers, our literary society and our happy hours, and every one of those is very successful, bringing out good numbers of people,” Cohn said. The happy hours are a more casual form of what used to be called mixers and are held at various Bixby Knolls businesses. Cohn noted that, at a recent happy hour, a spokesperson from the Long Beach Area Visitors and Convention Bureau explained how that organization promotes the city. “They have been promoting the waterfront for some time, but now they are also going to be promoting the neighborhoods,” Cohn said. “That is something we have wanted for some time.”
Another positive change for the area is the ongoing streetscape improvements. “In the past few months, we have had 21 new trash cans put out on Atlantic Avenue, there are now about 36 bike racks out on the street, and our new banners just went up on Atlantic so that people driving through recognize that this is Bixby Knolls,” Cohn said. He added that Boy Scouts turning into Eagle Scouts will do two significant tree-planting and landscaping projects on Atlantic Avenue early next year. “We also have a façade-improvement project that enables us to provide grants to businesses that want to make their building more attractive,” he said.
The RDA has given the BKBIA $168,000 for the various improvement projects to be spent in 2009 and 2010. “This is really helping us because our assessment revenues are down due to several businesses that are no longer here,” Cohn said. “It’s a great partnership. We and the RDA are working together to speed things up and to improve things as much as possible.”
Cohn added that the BKBIA is also working hard to bring new businesses into the area, and he is currently talking with a company that is considering opening a kosher delicatessen in Bixby Knolls.
“The recession is not over, but we have had some new businesses open, which is hopeful,” Cohn said. “We will just keep trying to get more people to come here and spend money here. It’s a tough economic time, but we will just keep promoting our businesses. Everything we do is part of that.”