By Nick Diamantides
Today, Dec. 17, is Blair Cohn’s third anniversary as executive director of the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association (BKBIA). He is just as optimistic today as he was his first day on the job. “Retailers all over America are still not doing as good as they were four or five years ago, but things in Bixby Knolls are gradually getting better,” he said. “We just have to keep moving forward and keep doing what we can to make more people aware of the shops and restaurants that are here.”
Cohn said he was pleased to see the large crowd that attended the December First Fridays event. “The holiday edition of our First Fridays marked our third year of having the Christmas Tree and Menorah Lighting Ceremony,” he said. “We had a great crowd come out for that. We had people singing Chanukah and Christmas songs, and it was a lot of fun for everyone.” He added that First Fridays steadily grew throughout 2010, which means the public’s awareness of Bixby Knolls is also growing. “I don’t have a count because it would be too hard to count the people constantly moving on such a long stretch of Atlantic Avenue,” he said. “But just visibly, everyone can see that more people are coming to it every month.”
The event features live music and displays of paintings, sculptures and crafts, special menu items and various fun activities for adults as well as children. First Fridays began several years ago, but the BKBIA became its primary sponsor after Cohn was appointed executive director. He explained that in addition to giving locals a chance to step out and socialize, the event helps people discover the shops, restaurants and entertainment venues in the area.
Cohn said he is constantly looking for ways to introduce the public to existing businesses and publicize the opening of new ones. “We recently had the grand-opening party for the new restaurant, Suba, at 3550 Long Beach Boulevard,” he said. “It’s a sushi and tapas lounge, and we had a good turnout for that.” (Tapas are Spanish appetizers.)
Last night, (Thursday, Dec. 16) the BIA had its annual community holiday party at the Petroleum Club and, during the month of December, the BKBIA conducted its regular supper club and literary society meetings and its weekly Bixby Knolls Strollers walks.
“The big things for us are the ongoing projects with the Long Beach Redevelopment Agency (RDA),” Cohn said. “They have given us money to help property owners and business owners speed up improvements to their facilities.” He explained that the RDA has promised the BKBIA $168,000 to spend on façade improvements, new signage and landscape improvements, and special advertising during this fiscal year. “So we’ve already paid for the freeway signs that CALTRANS is manufacturing,” he said. “It’s a slow process, but by February we will have nine signs that will say ‘Bixby Knolls Next Two Exits’ before the Atlantic and Long Beach Boulevard exits on the 405 Freeway.”
Cohn said he is also glad to see the new Fresh & Easy Market that is now under construction at Atlantic Avenue and 33rd Street. He explained that the project is a good indication that large corporations are expecting the economy to improve and it’s also an expression of confidence in Bixby Knolls as a good location for retail businesses.
Meanwhile, landscape-, hardscape- and façade-improvement projects keep sprouting up all over Bixby Knolls. “We have our fourth big Boy Scout project at Don and Harold’s Automotive on 500 East Wardlow,” Cohn said. “The scouts will install an ADA-accessible ramp and walkway so that people will not have to ride their wheelchair on the street. There are also more tree plantings, building paintings and installations of new signs in several places in Bixby Knolls.” He explained that blade signs that protrude from buildings over the sidewalk will soon be installed so that pedestrians can more easily identify the businesses they are approaching.
“We are also mulling over some ideas for another event to bring more shoppers to Bixby Knolls,” Cohn noted. “It’s still too early to talk about what shape that event might take, but we are thinking about things that are being done in other cities and states and trying to decide how we can tweak them so that they will work here.”
Meanwhile, every week Cohn and his staff are walking and driving the district with a camera and note pad, making a list of what needs to be done. “One project we hope to start soon is to paint the addresses and maybe the names of businesses on the back of the buildings,” Cohn said. “That will help the police as well as customers identify the building from the back.”
He acknowledged that several businesses have closed in Bixby Knolls during 2010. “But that’s not unique to Bixby Knolls. Long Beach as a whole has this issue,” he said. “We have to be business-friendly from start to finish, and we have to give businesses incentives.”
For 2011, Cohn said he plans to keep the momentum going with more improvements, more meetings and more events to draw new shoppers to Bixby Knolls. “We cannot slow down,” he explained. “We have to stay optimistic, we have to keep looking good, we have to support the businesses that are here, and we have to attract new businesses to our area.”
Noting that the economy is still weak, Cohn acknowledges that Bixby Knolls businesses are facing major challenges, but he insists that things are getting better and the BKBIA is committed to helping all businesses in the area improve their profitability. “We won’t be satisfied until Bixby Knolls is absolutely thriving,” he said.