Elbow grease, paint and community camaraderie are transforming West Long Beach along Santa Fe Avenue.

A dedicated group of business owners and community leaders — led by the Long Beach Economic Partnership (LBEP), with $250,000 in funding from the company Prologis and brought about thanks to Councilmember Roberto Uranga and other city officials — has a community rolling up its sleeves for the past two years to make a difference along the Santa Fe Avenue thoroughfare.

What they’ve managed to do so far on Santa Fe Avenue between Willow Street and Pacific Coast Highway, they say, is a “corridor improvement strategy” model of what can be done in other areas of the city for the betterment of neighborhoods.

“The Long Beach Economic Partnership’s corridor improvement strategy, with funding and support from Prologis and Councilmember Uranga, has catalyzed improvements and collaboration among the small businesses along the Santa Fe Avenue corridor,” said Blair Cohn, Small Business Task Force Co-Chair . “We’re doing this to help retain and attract new businesses to serve the West Long Beach community and attract folks from all over the city to spend money here.  We’re already seeing success with that.”

Successful existing stakeholders in the area include 5,000 Pies, a social benefit corporation run by Fountain of Life Covenant Church; Casa Chaskis, a popular Peruvian restaurant; and Guanabana, a shop specializing in Mexican sorbets, smoothies and bionicos. The first new business to open in the corridor since the start of the pandemic is Vegan Castle, adding sushi to international cuisines available in this burgeoning foodie district.

“The diverse collection of eateries on Santa Fe make it an informal international food corridor, and these improvements being made in the area are shining a light on that,” said Debra Fixen, Small Business Task Force Co-Chair.   “We are seeing this effort build capacity and sustainability for the future, and we know this will be a model for additional corridor improvement strategies across the city.”

The scope of the corridor improvement project has been wide, from the power washing the gum off the sidewalks to planting trees and painting murals on peeling facades. Gardens have been planted. A corner store was transformed into an energy efficient healthy market thanks to a partnership with the nonprofit Long Beach Fresh. And, business owners are now connected to Project Business Lift consultants and other resources to help entrepreneurs succeed.

“The collection of small acts to beautify the area and to empower business owners is making a big difference,” said Councilmember Roberto Uranga. “We’re making Santa Fe a place where folks are excited to visit and hang out, and where businesses want to locate.”

The next phase of corridor improvements will include planting 20 more new trees, building another new garden in front of the USPS office, place wayfinding signage, continued power washing of sidewalks and continued small business coaching, including improving digital literacy. A market study and community branding strategy also are in the works.

“Little by little, it’s getting better here on Santa Fe Avenue,” said Maria Zepeda, the co-owner of a small market called Lili’s Store, which has been in business since 2005.

“They’ve put trees on the street and people are coming to clean the street and walkways, and I am going to paint outside,”  Zepeda said, noting that she’s been connected with resources to help her apply grants to recover from impacts due to the pandemic and beautify the storefront.

Additionally, Long Beach Economic Partnership has committed to assist in funding the restoration of the playground at Admiral Kidd Park, which was damaged after a devastating fire this summer.

“We’re proud to be part of the effort to help beautify and activate the Santa Fe Avenue corridor. Activities like rebuilding the playground at Admiral Kidd Park and sponsoring public art and local food festivals allow us to contribute to making West Long Beach an even better place for families to live and work,” said Damon Austin, a senior executive with Prologis, the global leader in logistics real estate.

Eventually, the Long Beach Economic Partnership, which is a private nonprofit, also has plans to help local property owners to establish an official Business Improvement District (BID).  BIDs exist in many other Long Beach neighborhoods and help maintain cleanliness, safety, and a sense of community that creates an ongoing cycle of attraction and investment.

“We aren’t stopping anytime soon, we are seeing this work through, and we know the work we do is going to put Santa Fe Avenue on the map,” Cohn said

For more information about investing or starting a business on Santa Fe, go to LBEP.org.