Despite Limited Funds, Programs And Events Engage Businesses And The Local Community
By Tiffany Rider - Senior Writer
June 5, 2012 - Things are progressing in a positive direction in Bixby Knolls as the business improvement association’s programs and events continue to tie the local community to businesses along the Long Beach Boulevard and Atlantic Avenue corridors.
The Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association (BKBIA), led by its executive director, Blair Cohn, has been working to provide opportunities to business owners and residents of the Bixby Knolls community, moving “full steam ahead.”
“We’re maintaining all of our regular programs, and we’re thrilled to death that it’s been four years for some of them,” Cohn said. “The Bixby Knolls Strollers is bigger than ever. When we moved it to the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, now we’re standing right on Atlantic Avenue and more people are seeing us. They are actually pulling over and asking what’s going on and joining us. It’s really a way for businesses to get exposure.”
The “Strollers” walking group, the community’s literary society and the monthly event First Fridays continue to grow in popularly. “We’ve been theming out First Fridays; in May we had “May the 4th Be with You” and “Atlantic in Wonderland” is for June – an Alice in Wonderland theme,” Cohn said. “We’re always trying to do something fun and funky.”
The BKBIA is currently preparing for the 7th annual Dragster Expo & Car Show, scheduled for July 14. “That’s always huge,” Cohn said.
The association recently launched a new program called Kidical Mass – a play on the term “critical mass” used to describe an annual global cycling event. More than 300 kids attended the bicycling event, which included Bixby Knolls business The Workshop, located at 4242 Atlantic Ave., conducting safety checks and bike tune-ups. Red Eye Media, located at 3550 Long Beach Blvd. Suite E, printed shirts for the event, and Free Spirit Yoga at 3910 Atlantic Ave. helped kids learn yoga poses.
The end of the massive bike ride led kids and parents alike to Georgie’s Place, 3850 Atlantic Ave., which gave away about 600 ice creams to participants, according to Cohn.
“Four businesses directly involved and benefitting from the event, which is always the goal for throwing these types of events,” he said. “We’re thinking of doing it monthly, and maybe for Father’s Day we’ll have all the kids and their dads wear ties. We’re also talking to the Petroleum Club, if we have the route finish there, to allow the kids to go swimming. We want to take it to the rancho as well. . . . It’s always fun to have a party, but it’s kind of the smoke-and-mirror to get people involved and visiting the businesses.”
Gillian Klinkert, dubbed the Duchess of Bixby Knolls for her involvement in almost all of the BKBIA’s programs and events, said her community continues to thrive under Cohn’s leadership.
“Blair Cohn continues to break the mold, and the street party on Atlantic for the ‘Levitated Mass’ rock on its way to LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) was huge with incredible support from the businesses and attendees from all over Southern California,” Klinkert said. “The Community Happy Hours continue to attract neighbors and business owners/employees. A new venture this year was to have an outdoor get together featuring a few local businesses on a block of Long Beach Boulevard, which attracted more neighbors than ever. As we know, thriving stores and restaurants enhance a community, and businesses need the support of local residents to be successful.”
Funding For Future Remains Uncertain
While Bixby Knolls is status quo in terms of programs and events, Cohn said the threat of losing funding from the contract with the now-defunct Long Beach Redevelopment Agency is always in mind. “We’re still receiving funds for our work plan projects per our contract with the city,” he said. “We’re just waiting it out for the oversight committee and the state department of finance to start looking at these enforceable obligations, and that our contract is indeed safe.”
The BKBIA Board of Directors, which meets on the fourth Thursday of each month at 7:45 a.m. at Café Bixby, 3900 Atlantic Ave., is keeping a watchful eye on the contract, which, if terminated, would greatly impact the association’s staff. “Nobody wants to go backwards; nobody wants to do very little or practically nothing because of a lack of funds to keep our staff going,” Cohn said. “If it was doomsday, then we’d lose one person, Krista would go part-time, I’d get a pay cut. Then we would have to decide if we all wanted to work twice as hard for less money.”
In the meantime, the BKBIA continues to do what it does for local businesses, including façade and landscaping improvements. “In late spring/early summer, you can see the fruit of the labors,” Cohn said. “All of the trees are blooming, and all of the new landscaping we put in is filling out nicely. . . . It really is another economic development tool.”
The BKBIA’s labors are evident when driving into Bixby Knolls, according to Mike Mora, vice president of the BKBIA Board. “The streets are clean and safe,” he said. “The sidewalks are busy with activity and people. This was not the case when I brought my computer repair business (Genus Services) into this area in 2000.” To grow his business, Mora said he knew the district needed to improve, and he decided to get involved with the BKBIA to make a difference.”
Bixby Knolls competes with destinations like Belmont Shore’s waterfront venue that receives high foot traffic, and Downtown Long Beach’s convention center, arts and entertainment center and bigger restaurants, Cohn said. Because Bixby Knolls is set apart, the community has to do things differently.
“We are seeing the street a little more activated, but we don’t see numbers like you get in Belmont Shore,” Cohn said. “We’re still far from that, but it’s been on the upswing. When they open up, what we tell a new business owner is that this is a great neighborhood and a great place to have a business, but you have to work very hard because we’re still at that point of educating the neighbors, reminding them to come shop on their business corridors rather than go to Lakewood or Signal Hill. You have to work twice as hard up here, I think, just to get your flag waved and people knowing that you’re there. That’s why First Fridays is so important. It’s not the ultimate destination yet, but it’s getting better.”
Potential Projects Could Increase Sidewalk Activity
With the growing popularity of creating outdoor space for pedestrians and business customers to pause, look around and enjoy, such as the recently installed “parklet” in front of Berlin Coffeehouse and Bistro at 420 E. 4th St., Bixby Knolls may see development of similar spaces in the coming years. “It’s tough on Atlantic Avenue because traffic is fast,” Cohn pointed out. “There are a lot of busses too. If you look out there, people are speeding no matter what kind of vehicle it is. It’s not like 4th Street, which is narrow.”
However, local architect Brian Ulaszewski came to the BKBIA and proposed a few ideas, including creating a sidewalk extension at the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Claiborne Drive. Heading north on Atlantic Avenue, the turn onto Claiborne Drive is very wide and sweeping, Cohn said. Ulaszewski’s proposal is to build an extension of the sidewalk to a more angular corner. If implemented, it would help slow traffic at that turn, which Cohn said would likely please the neighbors and business owners.
The proposed project is in its conceptual stages, according to Ulaszewski. “We need to engage local stakeholders and city staff,” he wrote in an e-mail. “[But] here are the benefits: for residents, it calms traffic speeds coming from Atlantic; for pedestrians, it reduces [street] crossing distance; and for the business district, it creates a sense of place.”
“I’d like to see this built,” Cohn said. Other potential projects include installing bicycle corrals outside of Trader Joe’s, 4121 Atlantic Ave., and The Factory Gastro-Bar, 4020 Atlantic Ave., in alignment with the city’s focus on becoming the most bicycle friendly city in America.
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